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  • Writer's pictureBill Raines

Indiana Supreme Court Hear Christopher Harris v. State of Indiana at Mitchell Opera House

MITCEHELL - OCTOBER 27, 2022 - The Indiana Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Christopher Harris v. State of Indiana in the courts consideration whether it will take up the case on Wednesday morning.

File Photo

Christopher Harris began dating a woman in the summer of 2019. As the summer progressed, Harris became suspicious that she was " messing around" with one of her ex-boyfriends. He confronted the ex-boyfriend in a parking lot and robbed him at gunpoint.

Indiana Supreme Court Justices Geoffrey Slaughter, Mark Massa, Chief Justice Loretta Rush, Derek Molter, and Christopher Goff stand in front of the historic Mitchell Opera House

After stealing a gold chain and a few dollars, Harris fled. Later that night, police found Harris and arrested him.

The State charged Harris with four felonies and alleged he was a habitual offender because of prior felony convictions in 2002, and 2013. After a bench trial, in which a judge decides the case, Harris was found guilty of robbery and battery.

A week later, a jury trial with 12 citizens decides the case was held on Harris's habitual offender charge. The parties agreed that Harris had two prior, unrelated felony convictions. Harris tried to testify in hopes of persuading the jury to reject the habitual charge, buth the State objected, claiming the testimony was irrelevant. With the jury out of the room, Harris told the judge about his mental health challenges and complications he was having with his medication at the time of the robbery in this case. He also claimed he had played only a minor part in one his previous crimes. The judge did not allow Harris to present this evidence to the jury. The jury found Harris was a habitual offender.

Ultimately, Harris was sentenced with a habitual offender sentence enhancement to a total of 27 years. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions and sentence, finding the trial court made no mistake when it prevented Harris from testifying in front of the jury.

Harris has filed a petition to transfer. The Indiana Supreme Court has not yet decided to grant the transfer and is holding oral arguments to consider whether it should decide the case.

During the oral arguments the defense maintains there may have been jury nullification and Mr. Harris constitutional rights were violated.

In the United States, jury nullification occurs when a jury in a criminal case reaches a verdict contrary to the weight of evidence, sometimes because of a disagreement with the weight of law.

American jury draws its right to render a general verdict in criminal trials, the inability of criminal courts to direct a verdict no matter how strong the evidence, the Fifth Amendment double jeopardy clause prevents an appeal of an acquittal and the fact a jury cannot be punished for the verdict they return.

Questions remain whether Mr. Harris still should have been afforded his right to be heard by a jury. The defense maintains that decision should have been left up to the defendant and not the courts. When a defendant testifies, it always leaves the defendant open to the

State to challenge the defendant's testimony and put the defendant at considerable risk in testifying.

The Indiana State Legislature overhaul of the Indiana Criminal Code that was enacted by the Indiana State Legislature in 2014.

Both sides presented their arguments just over 20 minutes, with final remarks made by the defense with the Supreme Court Justices considering on whether they will even hear the case.

Lawrence County Superior Court I Judge John Plummer III, came in from vacation to be able to hear today arguments and watch the Indiana Supreme Court session that took place in Lawrence County. " This is a once in a lifetime opportunity," said Judge Plummer

" What is being decided today is whether the law the Court of Appeals relied on is constitutional," said Judge Plummer who reviewed the briefs and rulings prior to attending Wednesday's oral arguments.

" This is going to be a very interesting argument, and I am glad they came here to Lawrence County and very privileged to have them here today," Judge Plummer added.

Judge Nathan Nikirk tells the audience about the case

" The Opera House is a beautiful facility, in which I have been here a couple of times, but to see the Supreme Court is really an honor. As a lawyer and judge I have never seen an oral argument of the Supreme court. This is a real treat for me as well," said Lawrence County Circuit Court Judge Nathan Nikirk.

All of Lawrence County Judges attended the Supreme Court Session which included Lawrence County Circuit Judge Nathan Nikirk, Lawrence County Superior Court I Judge John Plummer III, and Juvenile Referee Anah Gouty

" I am excited about all the students being here, who came from the various high schools, they get to see the system at work. This helps them understand, I personally like to learn by seeing things firsthand, and I believe it's easier for kids to understand our system of government when they actually see it," said Lawrence County Superior Court II Judge Bob Cline.

Lawrence County Sheriff's Department provided security

" I would like to commend Mitchell and Hoosier Uplands for this beautiful facility," concluded Judge Nikirk.

Lawrence County Council member Rick Butterfield

Lawrence County Sheriff's Department helped screen attendees at the hearing. Several public government officials from township trustees, county commissioners, county council members. Mitchell City officials, and other guests attended the hearing.

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