Jamison Koehler cites Ashe v. Swenson (1970) as currently his favorite U.S. Supreme Court case. In a comment on his post I wrote: “If you like Ashe, you might also like Yeager. Until recently these used to be my favorite U.S. Supreme Court cases too.”
What recently changed my mind about these cases is the Indiana Supreme Court’s decision in Tyrus Coleman v. State (2011), and the utter failure of these cases to do Mr. Coleman (whom I represented at trial) any good. Now when I read Yeager the only significant thing about the case seems to me to be the fact that the defendant, Mr. Yeager, was an Enron executive.
The Indiana Supreme Court’s decision in Mr. Coleman’s case came less than a week after that court rendered its infamous decision in Barnes, which purports to abrogate the right of the people to reasonably resist unlawful police entry into their homes. I lament the fact that Barnes has gotten all the attention and public vilification, while the court’s disposal of Coleman has gotten none, even though both cases equally exude the pernicious implication that only police officers are entitled to use force to defend themselves or others and that the only allowable recourse of a man facing armed and dangerous men who are in the act of invading his property is to call the police.
In the wake of the political fallout over Barnes the Indiana Attorney General has put on his white hat and joined the chorus condemning Barnes:
I support a rehearing of the case to allow for a more narrow ruling that would continue to recognize the individual right of reasonable resistance to unlawful entry. In our brief and argument to the Indiana Supreme Court last fall, my office did not advocate for the type of ruling the Court issued last week.
Here’s my response to that, borrowing from Eric Turkewitz: “Go shit in your white hat and pull it down over your ears.” Your office didn’t have to petition the Indiana Supreme Court for transfer after the Indiana Court of Appeals rendered its eminently reasonable decision that would have freed Tyrus Coleman — an innocent man — on the grounds of collateral estoppel, but it did.
And speaking of going above and beyond the call of duty, here are the principal considerations which normally govern the Indiana Supreme Court’s decision whether to grant transfer:
(1) Conflict in Court of Appeals’ Decisions. The Court of Appeals has entered a decision in conflict with another decision of the Court of Appeals on the same important issue.
(2) Conflict with Supreme Court Decision. The Court of Appeals has entered a decision in conflict with a decision of the Supreme Court on an important issue.
(3) Conflict with Federal Appellate Decision. The Court of Appeals has decided an important federal question in a way that conflicts with a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States or a United States Court of Appeals.
(4) Undecided Question of Law. The Court of Appeals has decided an important question of law or a case of great public importance that has not been, but should be, decided by the Supreme Court.
(5) Precedent in Need of Reconsideration. The Court of Appeals has correctly followed ruling precedent of the Supreme Court but such precedent is erroneous or in need of clarification or modification in some specific respect.
(6) Significant Departure From Law or Practice. The Court of Appeals has so significantly departed from accepted law or practice or has sanctioned such a departure by a trial court or Administrative Agency as to warrant the exercise of Supreme Court jurisdiction.
You will search the Indiana Supreme Court’s published opinion in Coleman in vain for any new explication of the law of collateral estoppel, any explanation of how the Indiana Court of Appeals’ decision had “departed from accepted law or practice” (let alone “significantly”), or any hint of the above-listed “considerations” which normally govern whether the Indiana Supreme Court grants transfer. Even though the first jury in Coleman’s case had acquitted him of murder and hung on the attempted murder charge (which in a just world and a just legal system would establish reasonable doubt as to Mr. Coleman’s guilt on both charges), and even though there was nothing contrary to established law in the Court of Appeals’ decision, the “Justices” on the Indiana Supreme Court chose to condemn Mr. Coleman to 45 years in prison for doing something that I believe with every fiber of my being was completely justified.