Indiana News

Indiana High Court Shifts Burden of Proof in Setting Bail in Murder Cases

Prosecutors must now make case for holding suspects without bond

6/25/2013


(WIBC.com file photo: Eric Berman)

The Indiana Supreme Court says the burden is on prosecutors to prove accused murderers should be held without bail.

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Indiana's constitution guarantees bail for most offenses, but says bail can be denied for murder or treason if "the proof is evident or the presumption strong."

A 3-2 Supreme Court says it's up to prosecutors to provide that proof by a preponderance of the evidence. The ruling overturns a 147-year-old precedent of making defendants win the right to post bond.

Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council executive director David Powell says the ruling will likely mean more work for prosecutors, but says it's too soon to say what the change will mean beyond that. He notes each county has its own schedule of typical bail amounts for different offenses.

Along with the strength of prosecutors' case, a judge would still assess whether the defendant is a threat to the community or likely to flee in deciding whether to set bail.

Justice Steve David wrote for the majority that a defendant is entitled to a presumption of innocence even at the beginning of the process. He notes the new standard is similar to those already adopted in several other states. Dissenting Justice Mark Massa counters that the U.S. Supreme Court has specifically excluded pretrial matters from the presumption of innocence.

The new standard will only come up in a handful of cases. David says in fiscal 2011, just 193 Hoosiers were charged with murder.

The ruling is of no benefit to the Cass County murder suspect who filed the case. The court ruled 4-1 that prosecutors met their burden in denying bail to Loren Fry in a 2011 murder. David notes the trial court ordered prosecutors to make their case for keeping Fry in custody, and suggests their success in doing so indicates the ruling won't have the far-reaching consequences the dissenters fear.

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