895 N.E.2d 1182 (Ind. 2008)
Defendant was driving under a controlled substance when he flipped the car, killing his then fiancé. At trial he was found guilty and was subject to the habitual offender legislation procured by the state legislature. He was then sentenced to 20 years plus the habitual offender penalty of an additional 30. IN code “requires a trial court to instruct the jury that the jury has the right to determine the facts and the law in a criminal case.” The trial court did not give the jury instruction stating that the jury has the right to refuse to recognize the defendant as a habitual offender, even if he statutorily meets the habitual offender status.
Whether the jury should have been in instructed that they determine law and facts specifically in determining habitual offender status and can find the offender not guilty of habitual offender status even if he meets the statutory requirements.
No, conviction affirmed. The jury has “latitude in defining habitual offender status in a way that it does not in defining guilt or innocence.” While the court holds that such an instruction would not have been inappropriate, the court did not need to specifically state or emphasize the fact that the jury may completely find the defendant not guilty of habitual offender status. “The substance of the information contained in the trial court’s instruction is the same.” The original instruction used the word “may” in regards to the habitual offender status. The court reviews the jury instruction to analyze whether there was an abuse of discretion; and the court found there to be none.
Dissent: (Justice Rucker)
Instructing a jury that they have the right to disregard the law is incorrect. “… when deliberating on its verdict, the law that the jury is empowered to determine encompasses not only evaluating, among other things, the statutory elements of the offense – which it may not disregard – but also whether the legislature intended those elements to be applied to the facts presented.”
In other cases (Seay), the instruction is correct when guidance is given to a jury to determine what the law is in a specific context, such as a habitual offender context. “Simply advising the jury that it has the right to determine the law and the facts falls woefully short of explaining how this right may be exercised.”
Dissent: (Justice Dickson)
A jury can disregard jury instructions but has no right to disregard the law. Juries do “have the latitude to refuse to enforce the law’s harshness when justice so requires an instruction that had been tendered but refused.” The instruction given at trial is “broad, unspecific, and opaque.” It was not adequate to inform the jury of their full power in decision making – plain language, specific instruction is preferred.