‘Appeals on Wheels’ brings state Court of Appeals case to MU

By David Fenker

NORTH MANCHESTER -- Students at Manchester University, as well as North Manchester community members, had the opportunity to sit in on a case in the Indiana State Court of Appeals Tuesday, April 18.

The case, Larry C. Perry, Jr. v. State of Indiana, involved the appeal of a Fort Wayne man convicted of several counts of battery, as well as a finding that he is a habitual offender. Oral arguments for the case were heard in the upper level of MU’s Jo Young Switzer Center.

“Students get to witness first-hand how appellate courts operate. What most people know about courts from movies and television relates to trial courts, but appellate courts are relatively unfamiliar. Further, by asking questions of the judges once the argument ends, students have a chance to learn about legal and judicial decision making, career paths, and government in general,” Leonard Williams, MU professor of political science and dean of the College of Education and Social Sciences, said.

Williams has invited the court to hear a case at MU every two years since 2013.

Judges Michael P. Barnes and Terry A. Crone of St. Joseph County and Robert R. Altice, Jr. of Marion County presided over the case.

After hearing arguments from the two lawyers, the judges took questions from the audience.

Zack Clark, a student at MU, asked for a clarification between the terms inference and speculation, which came up multiple times during the arguments.

Barnes said that the difference is between information that can reasonably be inferred from other verified facts, and information that cannot be verified.

Preston Wright, another MU student, asked whether the judges are appointed or elected, and if elected, how long their terms were.

“Yes and yes,” Barnes said, with a laugh. “We are appointed, and stand for retention.”

Altice said that they are appointed by a seven-member commission composed of three lawyers elected by the legal community, three non-lawyers appointed by the governor and Chief Justice of Indiana. The judges then stand for retention after their first two full years, and every 10 years after that.

Crone added that they are required to retire by age 75.

Additional questions included problems facing the judiciary and the power of the prosecutor in the Indiana legal system.

All three judges agreed that a lack of resources is one of the main problems they face.

Crone said that while the state appellate court handles 2,000-3,000 cases per year, the local courts handle up to two million cases per year and need a large amount of resources such as public defenders, law enforcement officers and funding.

“There is a constant problem of resources,” he said.

Additionally, Altice noted that they have seen an uptick in drug-related cases involving children, including cases in which the parents’ rights are called into question and the children are taken away.

“We have also seen a decline in civil cases because litigation is expensive,” he added, noting that many civil cases are settled out of court.

Barnes said that another concern is maintaining people’s confidence in the judicial system.

“There has been an erosion in confidence in the judiciary,” he said.

Crone added that, because of the way the government is structured, the judiciary is not always in line with the majority or popular opinion.

“We are a check, and that results in us being unpopular or seen as being anti-majoritarian,” he said.

“We are the people that have to say to the majority, ‘Stop.’ That doesn’t make us very popular,” Barnes added.

Altice added that the judiciary ended Japanese internment and segregated schooling, and said that while their decisions are not always popular, judges do their best to make sure their decisions are right.

Brad Yoder, MU professor of sociology, social work and criminal justice, asked about the role of the prosecutor in today’s judiciary, noting that they have a lot of authority and that there seems to be more confessions than criminal trials lately.

“Prosecutors have very awesome powers,” Barnes, who served as a prosecutor before becoming a judge, said.

“They are the linchpin of the system, and need integrity and compassion, as well as dignity. I hope the majority bring that.”

Altice said that he served as a deputy prosecutor for 13 years, and that while 85 percent of cases ended with a plea agreement, he still tried 40 cases per year.

“[Plea agreements] are a necessary element. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to do our job,” he said.

Posted on 2017 May 02