Justices: Previous ruling did not alter fundamental error doctrine


Jennifer Nelson for www.theindianalawyer.com

The Indiana Supreme Court wants to clear up potential confusion involving the state’s fundamental error doctrine.

The justices granted transfer to Brandon Brummett v. State of Indiana, 49S02-1502-CR-69, to clarify that its ruling in Ryan v. State, 9 N.E.3d 663 (Ind. 2004), did not alter the doctrine of fundamental error.

In Ryan and Brummett, the principal issue was whether the prosecutor engaged in prosecutorial misconduct, and if so, whether the claim was procedurally defaulted due to defense counsel’s failure to timely raise an objection at trial or whether reversal should result under the doctrine of fundamental error.

In Ryan, the convictions were affirmed because the defendant failed to contemporaneously object to the misconduct, and the misconduct did not warrant application of the fundamental error doctrine. That ruling was handed down a day after the Court of Appeals reversed Brandon Brummett’s convictions after finding the prosecutorial misconduct in that case amounted to fundamental error.

On rehearing, the COA affirmed, writing that “the prosecutor’s misconduct did amount to fundamental error under the standard now to be used,” which implied that Ryan may have created a new fundamental error standard, Justice Brent Dickson wrote.

But that is not the case. Ryan simply restated and applied the longstanding standard, he wrote, as did the ruling in Brummett. As such, justices summarily affirmed, except for the sentence implying a new standard has been created.