MERRILLVILLE | Members of the Indiana Supreme Court were lauded Thursday during a rare visit for keeping in mind much of their audience included students from nearly a dozen local high schools.
The five justices were in the region to hear oral arguments in a case involving a man who was arrested and later convicted in a bench trial of possession of marijuana.
The conviction was upheld by the Indiana Court of Appeals but accepted for review by Indiana Supreme Court and now is under the high court's jurisdiction.
"The great thing was they were breaking down the legal arguments for the students and explaining the process to the audience," said Joseph Abad-Policicchio, of unincorporated Crown Point and a second-year criminal justice student at Merrillville's Brown Mackie College.
"By having this milestone experience in Lake County, our state's highest court provided our community and local high school students the rare opportunity to witness firsthand how the Indiana Supreme Court presides over cases," said attorney Michael Jasaitis, president of the Lake County Bar Association, which hosted the event.
"Such an occasion will introduce and motivate these students to enter the field of law," Jasaitis said in expressing appreciation to the court.
It was a unique event not only students but also many practicing attorneys.
Of some 1.6 million cases filed statewide in 2011, the Supreme Court was asked to review only 1,000 and agreed to hear about 80.
The justices on Thursday brought one of those cases to Merrillville High School for a hearing.
Defense attorney Thomas Allen, of Fort Wayne, sought to convince the justices a police officer had acted improperly in his response to a 911 call from a former victim of the defendant when no emergency existed.
The officer crossed a line in drawing a gun on the man based on unverified information from the caller, Allen argued.
The state, represented by Deputy Attorneys General Aaron Spolarich and Stephen Creason, argued the officer's actions were justified based on the totality of the situation.
The officer had knowledge of the man's criminal history, and the man was reported to have a gun in a high-crime area at 2:30 in the morning, Spolarich argued.
Marijuana was subsequently discovered in the man's car, seized and later admitted into evidence by the trial court. The high court's decision has the potential to change precedent regarding search and seizure rules.
Following oral arguments, Chief Justice Brent Dickson explained the justices would next consider all arguments, take a vote and choose which justice will write the decision.
Then taking questions from the audience, the justices discussed their process, with Justice Steven David describing a fluid, multilayered process involving case selection and vote-taking.
"I think it's a very good system," David said.
Several justices, including Justices Robert Rucker and Mark Massa, said among their considerations is the potential impact on millions of Indiana residents, not just the defendant.
"We wrestle with that," Rucker said.
The newest member of the court, Justice Loretta Rush, admitted to much research and note-taking in developing questioning for oral arguments.
"Oral arguments are an opportunity to explore areas where more information is needed," Dickson said.