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Indiana Supreme Court: Court Grants Limited Rehearing, Still Affirms Death Sentence
Posted in Litigation

In Ward v. State, the Indiana Supreme Court granted rehearing of its April 7, 2009 decision (see our summary here) affirming Roy Lee Ward’s death sentence for the limited purpose of addressing – and rejecting – a claim that was not expressly addressed in its earlier opinion.

On direct appeal, the Court addressed Ward’s claim that the trial court erred in denying his for-cause challenges to ten prospective jurors.  This, Ward argued, forced him to use his preemptory strikes when for-cause challenges should have applied and to accept jurors who were biased against his evidence.  The Court rejected that claim as it pertained to the loss of preemptory challenges.

On rehearing, the Court explained that it now understood Ward to also challenge the denial of his “for-cause” challenge to one particular juror.  Specifically, Ward claimed “error in denying the for-cause challenge to Juror 105 and in permitting him to remain on the jury.” The defendant claimed that Juror 105’s comments indicated that he would start at the death penalty and wait for the evidence to determine if he should consider any other options. Also, Juror 105 allegedly wanted the defendant or the Court to “change his mind.” 

On rehearing, the Court explained that “whether a particular juror should be excused for cause rests within the sound discretion of the trial court. An appellate court will not reverse a trial court’s exercise of discretion in this regard ‘[s]o long as that discretion is not exercised in an illogical or arbitrary manner.’”  The Court further noted that a juror who would vote for the death penalty in every case would fail in good faith to consider mitigating or aggravating circumstances when required.  However, jurors with predispositions are not necessarily incapable of impartiality.

The Court explained that it is common practice for the trial court to further question a prospective juror who displays the possibility of prejudicial bias so as to ascertain the depth of the bias and that juror’s ability to set aside the bias and render a decision based solely on evidence and court instruction.  In Ward’s case, the trial court asked Juror 105 if he could keep an open mind, consider any possible sentences, and if he understood that “the burden of proving aggravating circumstances is on the government.” The Juror answered “yes” to all of the questions.  On that basis, the Indiana Supreme Court concluded that the trial court did not act “illogically or arbitrarily in denying the defendant’s for-cause challenge.”

To learn more about Andrew Gruber and his practice, please visit his profile.

  • Partner

    Andy is the Chair of the Labor & Employment Practice Group. Working exclusively in the areas of labor and employment law, Andy provides advice, counsel and litigation defense to employers in all areas of employment law, including ...



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