News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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March 27, 2014

Observing the legal system in action

Indiana Court of Appeals hears arguments on ISU campus

TERRE HAUTE — A Terre Haute man convicted of stabbing a man who beat him up in an argument had his appeal presented to a three-judge panel Thursday during an “Appeals on Wheels” event at Indiana State University.

Judges Patricia A. Riley, Margret G. Robb and Cale J. Bradford will now consider their ruling on the appeal of Charles Corn versus the State of Indiana before issuing a written opinion. But as they told an audience of college students and others who observed the court in action, oral arguments are important when applying the law to a case.

Corn received a 12-year prison sentence in April 2013 after a jury convicted him of aggravated battery for stabbing a man in the stomach about four hours after Corn and the victim had a violent confrontation. Corn is now serving his prison sentence and has a projected release date in September 2016.

Corn appealed his conviction by raising two allegations – that the prosecution improperly impeached him at the trial for exercising his right to remain silent during police questioning, and that the prosecution did not prove that Corn didn’t act in self-defense.

Appeals attorney Mark Small argued that testimony given during the trial rendered the entire trial unfair, and he asked that the conviction be vacated in favor of another trial or dismissal of charges.

Indiana Deputy Attorney General Karl Scharnberg represented the state, arguing that the jury did hear a final instruction telling them that just because Corn did not testify at the trial, they could not hold that against him. Scharnberg also said that the jury heard evidence that Corn provoked the confrontation that resulted in the stabbing, so it was not a matter of self-defense. Also, Corn had armed himself with a kitchen knife and made statements about getting even with the victim before the stabbing, Scharnberg said.

After taking the case under advisement, the judges accepted questions from the audience, mostly students, about their duties as appeals court judges.

Bradford said the judges have reviewed each appeals case before hearing from the attorneys, but that doesn’t mean he had made up his mind yet.

“We are kind of the instant replay booth of the court,” he said, explaining that the appeals judges may have a hypothesis formed about the case, but that does not mean that his mind cannot be changed.

“It’s an exchange of ideas,” Bradford said of the arguments from the attorneys. “I may vote the way I hypothesize, but I feel better about it after hearing about it.”

Robb agreed. “It may not change your mind,” she said of hearing the oral arguments, “but it may change the way you get there. Even if it doesn’t change our minds and we do the same thing, it gets us to where we’re going better.”

The appeals court – which consists of 15 judges split into five three-member panels – hears between 2,200 and 2,300 cases per year, looking for legal errors that occurred during trials or sentencings.

The judges rely on the records of the case, and as Robb noted, a defendant is not entitled to a perfect trial, just a fair trial. The appeals court selects only a few cases each year upon which to hear oral arguments. The remainder are reviewed through briefs submitted by the attorneys.

Vigo Superior Court 1 Judge John Roach, who presided over the Corn trial, listened to the appeals presentation, and told the Tribune-Star that hearing the arguments was interesting for him.

“It’s a good perspective because they’re obviously looking at the whole record,” Roach said of the judges, “and sometimes they may focus on things that were not brought up at trial.”

The students also heard a few career suggestions from the judges.

Bradford suggested that there is not really a “pre-law” major to prepare students for law school, so he suggested students to have a Plan B major in case law school does not work out. He suggested that writing and oral communication skills are a good focus.

Riley also noted that law school enrollments have dropped substantially in the past five years, and she said that is particularly true for women and minority students. It is important to have women and minority attorneys in Indiana, she said, so that representation of all points of view is more balanced.

Riley also noted that her best skill on the bench was sometimes the fact that she was a mother, because lawyers can often act like children in court.

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.

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