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McCowan v. State

Supreme Court of Indiana

March 25, 2015

DUSTIN E. MCCOWAN, Appellant (Defendant below),
v.
STATE OF INDIANA, Appellee (Plaintiff below)

Appeal from the Porter Superior Court, No. 64D02-1109-MR-9107. The Honorable William E. Alexa, Judge. On Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 64A03-1305-CR-189.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: Thomas W. Vanes, Merrillville, Indiana.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: Gregory F. Zoeller, Attorney General of Indiana; Angela N. Sanchez, Andrew A. Kobe, Brian L. Reitz, Deputy Attorneys General, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Massa, Justice. Rush, C.J., and Dickson, Rucker, and David, JJ., concur.

OPINION

Page 761

Massa, Justice.

Among the most fundamental precepts of American criminal justice is that

Page 762

the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Today we examine our holding in Robey v. State, 454 N.E.2d 1221 (Ind. 1983), and state unequivocally and prospectively that it is the absolute right of every criminal defendant to receive the following jury instruction upon request: " The presumption of innocence continues in favor of the defendant throughout the trial. You should fit the evidence to the presumption that the defendant is innocent if you can reasonably do so." In this case, however, the jury instructions adequately encompassed these principles, which was the minimum required by prior precedent, and thus the trial court's failure to use this precise language was not error.

Facts and Procedural History

Early one morning, Amanda Bach's car was found abandoned in a parking lot, prompting an extended search of the area.[1] Two days later, her body was found in a wooded area adjacent to railroad tracks, approximately three hundred yards from the home of defendant Dustin McCowan. After extensive investigation, McCowan was charged with Bach's murder.

Just before voir dire at McCowan's trial, the court instructed the prospective jurors:

In a criminal case such as this, the defendant is presumed to be innocent of the charges that are brought against him, and the State of Indiana has the burden of overcoming this presumption of innocence and proving the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; and I will be discussing these concepts with you a little later in the proceedings.

Tr. at 15.

Once the jury was empaneled, the trial court gave its preliminary instructions, including, in relevant part, the following statements:

--You should keep an open mind. You should not form or express any conclusion or judgment about the outcome of [the] case until I submit the case to ...

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