Attorney for Appellant Attorneys for Appellee
Michael N. Pagano Steve Carter
Funk & Foster Attorney General of Indiana
Nandita G. Shepherd
Deputy Attorney General
Appeal from the Lake Superior Court, No. 45G02-9308-CF-193
The Honorable Natalie Bokota, Magistrate
On Petition To Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 45A03-0207-PC-241
June 17, 2004
At trial the State claimed the shooting was an act of retaliation.
The defense characterized the shooting as an accident or the result of reckless
grandstanding. At the close of trial defense counsel tendered an instruction on
the lesser offense of reckless homicide, which the trial court declined to give.
Ultimately the jury found Fisher guilty of murder. On direct appeal,
counsel did not raise the issue of the refused reckless homicide instruction.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction.
In May 2001, Fisher filed a petition for post-conviction relief contending, among other
things, that appellate counsel rendered ineffective assistance for failing to raise the issue
of the refused instruction. At a hearing on the petition, the State
asserted had this trial happened today, there would be error in not giving
the instruction, if it was a correct statement of the law. Appellants
App. at 201 (emphasis added). The dispute at the hearing centered on
whether at the time of Fishers trial reckless homicide was an inherently included
lesser offense of murder. The post-conviction court concluded that it was, but
nonetheless denied Fishers petition for post-conviction relief on the ground that the jury
could not have concluded that the lesser offense of reckless homicide was committed
but not the greater offense of murder. Id. at 132. In
essence, according to the post-conviction court, there was no serious evidentiary dispute about
the element distinguishing the greater offense from the lesser offense. On review
a divided panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the
post-conviction court. However it did so on grounds different from those on
which the post-conviction court relied. The Court of Appeals determined (i) the
state of the law clearly requiring instructions for inherently lesser-included offenses was not
settled until after Fishers direct appeal had been decided and thus (ii) the
court could not fault appellate counsel for choosing to raise issues that may
have appeared at the time to serve Fishers interests more effectively. Fisher
v. State, 785 N.E.2d 320, 326-27 (Ind. Ct. App. 2003). Having previously
granted transfer, we now reverse the judgment of the post-conviction court.
This Court has noted the need for a reviewing court to be deferential
to appellate counsel on this type of claim:
[T]he reviewing court should be particularly sensitive to the need for separating the wheat from the chaff in appellate advocacy, and should not find deficient performance when counsels choice of some issues over others was reasonable in light of the facts of the case and the precedent available to counsel when that choice was made.
Timberlake v. State, 753 N.E.2d 591, 605 (Ind. 2001) (quoting Bieghler, 690 N.E.2d at 194), cert. denied, 537 U.S 839 (2002). We employ a two-part test to evaluate waiver of issue claims: (1) whether the unraised issues are significant and obvious from the face of the record and (2) whether the unraised issues are clearly stronger than the raised issues. Id. at 605-06 (quoting Gray v. Greer, 800 F.2d 644, 646 (7th Cir. 1985)). Stated somewhat differently, [a] defendant may establish that his appellate counsels performance was deficient where counsel failed to present a significant and obvious issue for reasons that cannot be explained by any strategic decision . Ben-Yisrayl v. State, 738 N.E.2d 253, 261 (Ind. 2000).
On direct appeal, counsel presented three issues: (1) whether evidence that Fisher had
previously fired a gun at one of the witnesses was improperly admitted; (2)
whether the trial court properly instructed the jury on the defense of accident;
and (3) whether the evidence was sufficient to support Fishers conviction. See
Fisher, No. 45A04-9405-CR-188, slip op. at 2. As to issue one, counsel
for Fisher argued that the probative value of the evidence was outweighed by
its prejudicial impact and therefore should have been excluded under Indiana Evidence Rule
403. Id. at 3. The Court of Appeals disagreed because the
evidence tended to disprove Fishers defense that he shot the victim by accident.
Id. at 4. As to issue number two, Fisher argued the
trial court erred in giving its own jury instruction regarding the defense of
accident. The Court of Appeals determined that Fisher waived this issue because
although submitting an accident instruction, Fisher did not object to the instruction actually
given by the trial court. Id. at 4. Concerning Fishers sufficiency
of the evidence claim, the Court of Appeals observed that Fishers argument was
merely a request to reweigh the evidence, which the Court declined to do.
The issues counsel raised on direct appeal had little chance of success. Courts of review rarely reverse a jurys guilty verdict on sufficiency of evidence grounds; the law is settled that failure to object to a jury instruction given by the trial court waives the issue for review; and even where meritorious, claims of Rule 404 violations, as with other evidentiary rules, are subject to harmless error analysis. By contrast the unraised issue stands on a different footing. We agree with our colleagues that the state of the law clearly requiring instructions for inherently lesser-included offenses was not settled until after Fishers direct appeal had been decided. Fisher, 785 N.E.2d at 326. However, in our view this fact is not dispositive of whether the lesser-included instruction issue was significant, obvious, and clearly stronger than the issues counsel presented on direct appeal. See footnote
There is no question that at the time of Fishers trial and appeal
in 1993-1995, the law on the matter of lesser-included offenses was in a
state of flux. One line of authority characterized by this Courts opinions
in Sills v. State, 463 N.E.2d 228 (Ind. 1984) and Compton v. State,
465 N.E.2d 711 (Ind. 1984) advanced the view that the trial court was
not required to give an instruction on an alleged lesser-included offense where the
charging information closely tracked the statute. See Compton, 465 N.E.2d at 713;
Sills, 463 N.E.2d at 234.
This was the apparent ground on
which the trial court relied in rejecting Fishers tendered instruction. On the
other hand, another line of authority characterized by this Courts opinions in Aschliman
v. State, 589 N.E.2d 1160 (Ind. 1992) and Lynch v. State, 571 N.E.2d
537 (Ind. 1991) stood for the proposition that the wording of a charging
document is not necessarily determinative of whether the trial court should give an
instruction on a lesser-included offense. See Aschliman, 589 N.E.2d at 1161; Lynch,
571 N.E.2d at 539.
Acknowledging the ambiguity of the law governing lesser-included offenses, this court finally clarified
the matter in Wright v. State, 658 N.E.2d 563 (Ind. 1995). Writing
to resolve the unfortunate confusion that has arisen in the cases that address
when a trial court should instruct juries on lesser included offenses, id. at
565, we developed a three-part test that trial courts should perform when called
upon by a party to instruct a jury on a lesser-included offense of
the crime charged. First, the trial court must compare the statute defining
the crime charged with the statute defining the alleged lesser-included offense to determine
if the alleged lesser-included offense is inherently included in the crime charged.
Id. at 566. Second, if a trial court determines that an alleged
lesser-included offense is not inherently included in the crime charged under step one,
then it must determine if the alleged lesser-included offense is factually included in
the crime charged. Id. at 567. If the alleged lesser-included offense
is neither inherently nor factually included in the crime charged, the trial court
should not give an instruction on the alleged lesser-included offense. Id.
Third, if a trial court has determined that an alleged lesser-included offense is
either inherently or factually included in the crime charged, it must look at
the evidence presented in the case by both parties to determine if there
is a serious evidentiary dispute about the element or elements distinguishing the greater
from the lesser offense and if, in view of this dispute, a jury
could conclude that the lesser offense was committed but not the greater.
Id. [I]t is reversible error for a trial court not to give
an instruction, when requested, on the inherently or factually included lesser offense if
there is such an evidentiary dispute. Id.
Although Wright disapproved of or overruled in part several cases from this Court
as well as the Court of Appeals, Wright nonetheless relied upon then-existing case
authority to fashion a three-part test. For example we observed, At least
since our decision in Lawrence v. State, (1978), 268 Ind. 330, 337, 375
N.E.2d 208, 212, analysis of this issue has spoken of two steps.
We believe that the explicit three-step analysis above should eliminate any confusion that
may have been caused by Lawrences two-step approach. Id. It is
true that appellate counsel cannot be held ineffective for failing to anticipate or
effectuate a change in existing law. Trueblood v. State, 715 N.E.2d 1242,
1258 (Ind. 1999). However, precisely because the law in this area was
unsettled and in a state of flux at the time of Fishers trial
and appeal, the issue of whether the trial court erred in refusing to
give a lesser-included instruction on reckless homicide was both significant and obvious as
well as clearly stronger than the issues raised. See Pelmer v. White, 877
F.2d 1518, 1523 (11th Cir. 1989) (That the law is unsettled on a
point does not mean the legal basis for arguing the point is unavailable.).
And appellate counsels failure to present the issue on direct appeal was
not a strategy-based decision. See supra n.1. Indeed had counsel raised
the issue, the analysis now widely referred to as the Wright test could
very well have been known as the Fisher test.
In any event applying the analysis to the facts of this case, as
to the first two parts of the Wright test, the only element distinguishing
murder and reckless homicide is the defendants state of mind: reckless homicide occurs
when the defendant recklessly kills another human being and murder occurs when the
killing is done knowingly or intentionally. Compare Ind. Code § 35-42-1-5 with
I.C. § 35-42-1-1(1). Reckless conduct is action taken in plain, conscious, and
unjustifiable disregard of harm that might result and the disregard involves a substantial
deviation from acceptable standards of conduct. I.C. § 35-41-2-2(c). By contrast,
a person engages in conduct knowingly if the person is aware of a
high probability that he or she is doing so. I.C. § 35-41-2-2(b).
Thus, reckless homicide is an inherently included lesser offense of murder.
See Davenport v. State, 749 N.E.2d 1144, 1150 (Ind. 2001). The determinative
issue is whether the evidence produced a serious evidentiary dispute concerning Fishers state
of mind that would justify giving the requested instruction.
This is an appeal from the denial of post-conviction relief. The petitioner
in a post-conviction proceeding bears the burden of establishing grounds for relief by
a preponderance of the evidence. Ind. Post-Conviction Rule 1(5); Saylor v. State,
765 N.E.2d 535, 547 (Ind. 2002). When appealing from the denial of
post-conviction relief, the petitioner stands in the position of one appealing from a
negative judgment. Saylor, 765 N.E.2d at 547. On review, we will
not reverse the judgment unless the evidence as a whole unerringly and unmistakably
leads to a conclusion opposite that reached by the post-conviction court. Id.
Further, the post-conviction court in this case entered findings of fact and
conclusions of law in accordance with Indiana Post-Conviction Rule 1(6). A post-conviction
courts findings and judgment will be reversed only upon a showing of clear
errorthat which leaves us with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake
has been made. Ben-Yisrayl, 729 N.E.2d at 106 (quotation omitted). In
this review, findings of fact are accepted unless clearly erroneous, but no deference
is accorded conclusions of law. Woods v. State, 701 N.E.2d 1208, 1210
(Ind. 1998). The post-conviction court is the sole judge of the weight
of the evidence and the credibility of witnesses. Id.
Based on an examination of the trial transcript and record of proceedings, the
post-conviction court concluded there was no serious evidentiary dispute concerning Fishers culpability.
Specifically the post-conviction court found that Fisher: (1)
had served in the military
and had been trained in the use of firearms; (2) brought the handgun
to the restaurant that night; (3) knew the handgun was loaded; (4) placed
the handgun in a position of easy access (in his back pocket); (5)
drew the handgun and pointed it at the victim stating that he was
not throwing beer but slinging lead; (6) poked the victim in the back
with the handgun; and (7) fired the weapon at the victims back at
point blank range. Appellants App. at 132-33. The post-conviction court also
determined that the handgun was semi-automatic and if functioning properly the trigger must
have been pulled in order to fire. Id. at 132. On
the other hand, according to the post conviction court, if the pin was
faulty, as Fisher contended, then he was aware of that fact and based
on his military training would appreciate the dangers of a malfunctioning deadly weapon.
It is undeniable that the evidence recounted by the post-conviction court supports the
jurys guilty verdict of murder. However when addressing the question of whether
there is a serious evidentiary dispute, the court must evaluate the evidence presented
by both parties. Wright, 658 N.E.2d at 567. In support of
his claim, Fisher contends that the central issue at trial was his culpability.
During opening statements trial counsel said, among other things, The issue is
not going to be whether or not Darryl Fisher actually fired the weapon.
Mr. Fisher is going to testify, he will tell you what occurred.
What is going to be the issue is whether or not he
knowingly or intentionally fired that weapon or the other side of it, whether
or not it was accidental. Appellants App. at 147. At trial
Fisher testified that he did not intend to shoot Kizmond but was only
playing around with the gun. Tr. at 302. After the gun
discharged, Fisher testified that he started screaming, Im sorry, Im sorry and dialed
911 for an ambulance. Id. at 299, 313. This testimony was
corroborated by at least two States witnesses. Enoch Boyd testified that when
the gun discharged, [Fisher] said oh, man, Im sorry, and was running around
crying with the gun in his hand. Id. at 126, 176.
La Montrell Thomas testified that Fisher had played around with a gun before
and therefore did not believe Fisher was serious about shooting anyone when he
pointed the weapon at Kizmond. Id. at 219. As a result
when Thomas saw Fisher with the handgun, Thomas continued to look at the
menu. Id. at 222-23. Thomas also testified that once Kizmond was
struck, Fisher seemed [s]tunned like that [sic] he did it or something .
. . . Id. at 223.
Although rejecting Fishers defense of accident, which would thereby have completely absolved Fisher
of any liability for his conduct, the jury could have returned a conviction
of reckless homicide instead of murder depending on how it weighed and credited
all of the evidence.
See Nordstrom v. State, 627 N.E.2d 1380, 1383
(Ind. Ct. App. 1994) (holding reckless homicide proven beyond a reasonable doubt where
defendant shot wife at close range allegedly believing gun would not discharge), trans.
denied. As such, the trial courts refusal to instruct the jury on
the lesser-included offense of reckless homicide was reversible error. And appellate counsels
failure to present this claim on direct appeal amounted to ineffective assistance.
The post-conviction courts finding to the contrary
leaves us with a definite and
firm conviction that a mistake has been made.
Shepard, C.J., and Dickson, Sullivan and Boehm, JJ., concur.