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Court rejects Indiana denial of bail in murder cases

Updated: June 25, 2013 11:47PM



INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that prosecutors must show why defendants in murder cases should be denied bail, overturning years in which the burden of proof fell on the suspect.

In a complex 3-2 decision, the court noted that murder and treason are the only crimes in Indiana in which defendants are jailed without bond unless they can cast doubt on their guilt. Yet under the Constitution, the justices said, defendants are presumed innocent unless the state can prove there is reason to assume they are guilty.

“By placing the burden on the defendant accused of murder or treason in a bail proceeding, we are in effect requiring him, while hampered by incarceration, to disprove the State’s case pre-trial in order to earn the right to be unhampered by incarceration as he prepares to disprove the State’s case at trial. There is no valid justification for such a backward process,” Justice Steven David wrote.

The court held that if a defendant is charged with murder or treason, the state must show “by a preponderance of the evidence that the proof is evident or the presumption (of guilt) strong” before bail can be denied.

The ruling also said prosecutors must present evidence and cannot simply say what they intend to use as proof at trial.

Bond is rare in Indiana murder cases because the burden of proof historically falls on defendants. In May 2012, a woman charged with killing her baby by eating rat poison while she was pregnant was granted bond after a state appeals court agreed with Bei Bei Shuai’s attorneys that there was enough evidence to cast doubt on the murder and feticide charges she faced.

“There’s not any other case that I’m aware of since the 1800s that a defendant was able to raise bail in a murder case,” said Shuai’s attorney, Linda Pence.

Past practice was no excuse, the ruling said.

“’Because that’s the way we’ve always done it’ is a poor excuse ... for continuing to do something wrong,” David wrote.

However, the court upheld the denial of bond to the suspect who challenged the law.

Justices Mark Massa and Robert Rucker dissented, saying they believed the denial of bond in such cases was allowable due to the severity of the crimes and the chance that a suspect might flee to avoid punishment.

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Follow Charles Wilson on Twitter: https://twitter.com/CharlesDWilson



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