An Indiana man convicted of sexual misconduct with a minor will receive a new trial based upon an Indiana Court of Appeal’s decision released on July 31, 2013, that a prosecutor’s zealous statements improperly made to a jury during closing arguments deprived the man of a fair trial, according to the Indiana Lawyer.
The case, Bruce Ryan v. State of Indiana, involved a former middle school teacher accused of having an inappropriate and sexual relationship with one of his students. This relationship was discovered when the child, Z.W-B.’s parents discovered emails from Ryan to their daughter and allegations of a romantic relationship emerged. Ryan was then convicted of two Class C felonies for sexual misconduct with a minor.
Ryan claimed that, in closing arguments, the prosecutor improperly commented on his constitutional right to a jury trial, improperly disparaged defense attorneys and instructed the jury to convict him for reasons other than his guilt, as well as commenting improperly on the credibility of the minor.
One of the prosecutor statements in question was when the attorney stated, “we’re not here because he didn’t do it. We’re here because he wants to get away with it,” implying that Ryan chose to have a jury trial in order to get away with his crimes.
Ryan claimed that this statement improperly commented on his constitutional right to a jury trial. The Court of Appeals agreed in an opinion authored by Judge Terry Crone.
“It is obvious that the prosecutor’s comment suggested to the jury that Ryan chose to have a jury trial because he wanted to try to get away with his crimes. By suggesting that Ryan’s decision to exercise his right to a jury trial indicated that he was guilty, the comment impermissibly penalized Ryan’s constitutional right to a jury trial by making its exercise costly,” the opinion states.
Ryan further claimed that the prosecutor improperly questioned the credibility of the minor victim in this case, as well as inappropriately commented on the defense counsel, as well as their strategy.
“In the case at bar, the prosecutor’s comments demeaned defense counsel, the role of defense counsel, and our system of justice, and therefore we conclude that they were improper and constitute prosecutorial misconduct,” the opinion states.
The court agreed with Ryan’s claims and found the state did not provide independent evidence that Ryan performed or submitted to touching the minor in question in order to “arouse or satisfy their sexual desires.” The court found that the closing statements made by counsel for the State deprived Ryan of a fair trial, and the matter has been remanded back to the trial court for a new trial.