July 1, 2013

Local attorney wins state supreme court case

State must prove murder case defendants should be denied bail.

by Mitchell Kirk Pharos-Tribune

---- — A Logansport attorney found success at the Indiana Supreme Court last week after the court ruled in favor of his challenge that those charged with murder should not have to prove they are entitled to bail.

The ruling stems from a 2011 case in Cass County Superior Court II, in which Logansport resident Loren Fry was charged with the murder of David Schroder over what police said was a long-running dispute regarding drainage tile on Schroder’s property. Represented by Logansport attorney Jim Brugh, Fry filed a motion seeking bail as well as a motion seeking a declaration that an Indiana Code statute stating a defendant charged with murder must prove why he or she should be admitted to bail is unconstitutional.

Judge Rick Maughmer of Cass County Superior Court II subsequently ordered prosecutors to present evidence or establish a strong presumption that Fry committed the murder.

“[T]hereafter, the statutory burden would shift to Fry to convince the court that he should be admitted to bail,” the supreme court ruling cites Maughmer as stating. “To the extent the statute might operate otherwise... it would be unconstitutional.”

After a hearing in accordance to these instructions, Maughmer denied bail to Fry.

Since 1866, the Indiana Supreme Court has held it is the responsibility of defendants to demonstrate “proof is not evident” and “presumption not strong” when seeking bail, the ruling states.

Brugh challenged this in the state supreme court, arguing that this burden should instead be placed on prosecutors to prove why a defendant shouldn’t be allowed bail.

“[Brugh’s] view is that this burden should be on the state, just as it is to ultimately prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” the ruling states.

The supreme court ruled 3-2 in favor of ascertaining that prosecutors must establish why a defendant shouldn’t be allowed bail prior to a judge’s decision. The ruling also applies to those seeking bail who have been charged with treason.

”I am happy to have persuaded the State Supreme Court to make new law based upon constitutional research, but I am sad that Loren does not get to post some bail,” Brugh stated in a letter to the Pharos-Tribune.

The court also established new criteria prosecutors must meet when pursuing the denial of bail in murder cases. In the ruling, the justices spell out this criteria by what they write strikes a balance between two extremes — the “simple” murder charge itself and the “insurmountable burden” of providing evidence that is beyond a reasonable doubt.

”Like Goldilocks in the home of the three bears, we search for a formulation that is not too low, and not too high, but instead is just right,” the ruling states.

The justices strike this balance in the ruling with the words, “...[T]he State must show that the defendant ‘more likely than not’ committed the crime of murder [or treason].”