INDIANAPOLIS | The Indiana Supreme Court on Tuesday invalidated a 1981 law and reversed nearly 150 years of precedent by shifting onto prosecutors the burden of proving a defendant accused of murder or treason is not entitled to bail.
The Indiana Constitution provides that all crimes "shall be bailable by sufficient sureties," but declares that murder and treason "shall not be bailable when the proof is evident, or the presumption strong."
In a 3-2 decision, the state's high court said Indiana's practice of requiring murder or treason defendants show the proof is not evident or presumption strong violates the presumption of innocence that all defendants bring with them to trial and limits the ability of the accused to defend themselves.
"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," wrote Justice Steven David. "There is no valid justification for such a backwards process."
David, Justice Loretta Rush and Chief Justice Brent Dickson, a Hobart native, agreed that for a court to deny bail in a murder or treason case, the prosecution must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that it is more likely than not the defendant committed the crime.
That is a higher standard than the probable cause needed for arrest, charging or indictment, but less than the "beyond a reasonable doubt" required for conviction, they said.
Justice Mark Massa dissented from the court's ruling, citing the supposed intentions of the constitution's framers as justification to continue requiring defendants prove they're entitled to bail.
Justice Robert Rucker, a Gary native, also dissented. Rucker said the court didn't need to issue such a sweeping ruling, because the state showed in the case at hand that a Cass County murder defendant more likely than not committed the crime and was properly denied bail.
Bryan Corbin, spokesman for Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, said the Republican is still reviewing the practical impact of the court's decision.
During 2011, the most recent budget year for which statistics are available, there were 193 murder and zero treason cases filed in Indiana out of 244,733 total criminal charges.