Riggs v. State, No. 49A02-9702-PC-120

Docket NºNo. 49A02-9702-PC-120
Citation689 N.E.2d 460
Case DateDecember 15, 1997
CourtCourt of Appeals of Indiana

Page 460

689 N.E.2d 460
Sterling RIGGS, Appellant-Petitioner,
v.
STATE of Indiana, Appellee-Respondent.
No. 49A02-9702-PC-120.
Court of Appeals of Indiana.
Dec. 15, 1997.

John Pinnow, Special Assistant to the State Public Defender, Greenwood, for Appellant-Petitioner.

Jeffrey A. Modisett, Attorney General, Rafal Ofierski, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, for Appellee-Respondent.

OPINION

FRIEDLANDER, Judge.

Sterling Riggs appeals from the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, raising the following restated issues:

1. Did the post-conviction court err in rejecting Riggs's claim that he was denied the right to be present at all

Page 461

critical stages of the proceedings when neither Riggs nor his attorney was present when the trial court informed the jury during deliberations that the court could not answer the jury's questions about the evidence and denied its request for certain items of physical evidence?

2. Did the post-conviction court err in determining that Riggs was not denied the effective assistance of appellate counsel?

We affirm.

At approximately 4:00 or 4:30 a.m. on April 24, 1985, B.R., a worker at the Central Manor Nursing Home, heard a noise in the next room. When she went to investigate, she ran into Riggs, who was standing in the corner just inside the doorway. B.R. backed up and started to scream. Riggs put a knife to B.R.'s throat and told her not to scream. Riggs then led B.R. out the back door of the nursing home, down an alley, and into a garage, where he removed some of her clothing and repeatedly sexually assaulted her. He then led her out of the garage and into a clearing between two vacant houses where he again subjected her to repeated sexual assaults. Riggs then took B.R.'s pantyhose and left.

B.R. gave police a description of her attacker, and at approximately 5:45 a.m., an officer found Riggs, who matched the description given by B.R., walking down an alley twelve or thirteen blocks from the crime scene. When the officer told him to stop, Riggs tossed a pair of white pantyhose towards a trash dumpster. Officers found a butcher knife stuck in the back of Riggs's jeans.

B.R. subsequently identified Riggs in a lineup as the man who had attacked her. Riggs was charged with confinement, attempted criminal deviate conduct, two counts of criminal deviate conduct, and rape. At trial, B.R. testified against Riggs and identified the pantyhose retrieved from the alley by the police as those which belonged to her. She also testified at trial that her pantyhose size was extra-large.

Riggs denied that he had thrown anything just before he was taken into custody. A woman who lived in the area where Riggs was arrested testified that she wore an all-white uniform, including hosiery, on her job as a home health care aide and that she threw her trash in the dumpsters in the alley behind her home. The woman also testified that she did not throw her pantyhose in the grass around the dumpsters.

The jury commenced deliberations at 7:30 p.m. on August 20, 1985. At 12:45 a.m., the jury sent the judge a note which stated: "1 Are there any size markings on the pantyhose? [,] 2 If there are, what size are the pantyhouse [sic]?[, and] 3 Were there any lab tests on the pantyhouse [sic]?" Record at 117. The trial judge responded in writing: "Can't answer any questions about the evidence." Record at 117. The jury made an additional request, which stated: "Pictures[,] Panties[,] P.H[, and] Pants". Record at 118. The trial judge again responded in writing, stating, "Can't have any evidence". Record at 118. At 2:15 a.m., the jury announced that it had reached a verdict. Riggs was found guilty on all five counts. Our supreme court affirmed Riggs's convictions on June 16, 1987. Riggs v. State, 508 N.E.2d 1271 (Ind.1987).

Riggs thereafter filed a petition for post-conviction relief, arguing that the trial court erred in failing to notify Riggs and his attorney of the jury's requests and that he was denied the effective assistance of trial and appellate counsel. At the hearing on the petition, Riggs testified that, while in jail awaiting the jury's verdict, he was never notified that the jury had any questions, and he was not returned to the courtroom at any time before the jury returned its verdict. Defense counsel representing Riggs also had no recollection of having been notified during deliberations that the jury had questions.

The post-conviction court denied Riggs's petition for relief, concluding that the trial court's actions did not amount to prejudicial or fundamental error and that neither trial nor appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise the issue.

Page 462

1.

The post-conviction court did not err in denying Riggs's petition for post-conviction relief.

While communications between a judge and a deliberating jury are forbidden, such communications create only a rebuttable inference of prejudice. Marsillett v. State, 495 N.E.2d 699 (Ind.1986). If the inference of prejudice is rebutted, the error is deemed harmless. Id. Courts in Indiana have repeatedly held that, where a trial judge merely responds to a jury's questions by denying the request, any inference of prejudice is rebutted and the error, if any, is harmless. Id.; Madden v. State, 656 N.E.2d 524 (Ind.Ct.App.1995), trans. denied; Jones v. State, 656 N.E.2d 303 (Ind.Ct.App.1995), trans. denied. In addition, even where an ex parte communication occurred, the trial court's mere denial of the jury's request to review exhibits does not result in prejudicial error. Moffatt v. State, 542 N.E.2d 971 (Ind.1989). Because the trial court in this case merely denied the jury's requests for physical evidence and for answers to its questions, the court's error in conducting ex parte communications with the jury was harmless.

We are not persuaded by Riggs's claim that the presumption of prejudice was not rebutted in this case because the "chronology of jury requests in the context of the evidence presented at trial demonstrate[d] there was a disagreement among the jurors over the physical evidence." Appellant's Brief at 13. Riggs acknowledges that jury requests to review exhibits are not within the scope of Ind.Code Ann. § 34-1-21-6 (West 1983), which governs jury requests for information after deliberations have begun where there is a disagreement among jurors as to any part of the testimony or where the jurors desire to be informed with...

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4 practice notes
  • Roberts v. State, No. 47A01-9804-CR-152.
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • 30 June 1999
    ...about the testimony or does not ask for clarification of a legal issue, IND. CODE § 34-36-1-6 does not apply); Riggs v. State, 689 N.E.2d 460, 463 (Ind.Ct.App. 1997); State v. Chandler, 673 N.E.2d 482, 485 Because IND. CODE § 34-36-1-6 was not triggered, the jury's request is evaluated unde......
  • Robinson v. State, No. 49S00-9706-CR-387
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • 2 October 1998
    ...evidence. Compare Anglin v. State, 680 N.E.2d 883 (statute held to apply to request to review documentary exhibits) with Riggs v. State, 689 N.E.2d 460, 462 (Ind.Ct.App.1997) (requests "to review exhibits, which are items of physical evidence, are never within the scope of the statute&......
  • Bouye v. State, No. 49S00-9703-CR-201
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • 20 July 1998
    ...any disagreement about the testimony or does not ask for clarification of a legal issue, the statute does not apply. See Riggs v. State, 689 N.E.2d 460 (Ind.Ct.App.1997); Johnson v. State, 674 N.E.2d 180 (Ind.Ct.App.1996); State v. Chandler, 673 N.E.2d 482 (Ind.Ct.App.1996); Jones v. State,......
  • Gibson v. State, No. 55A05-9704-CR-152
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • 28 April 1998
    ...necessarily stems from disagreement "is to engage in an impermissible judicial revision of the statute." Riggs v. State, 689 N.E.2d 460, 463 (Ind.Ct.App.1997). Page 752 We disagree with such a narrow interpretation of the statute. 1 We are not convinced that requiring express disa......
4 cases
  • Roberts v. State, No. 47A01-9804-CR-152.
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • 30 June 1999
    ...about the testimony or does not ask for clarification of a legal issue, IND. CODE § 34-36-1-6 does not apply); Riggs v. State, 689 N.E.2d 460, 463 (Ind.Ct.App. 1997); State v. Chandler, 673 N.E.2d 482, 485 Because IND. CODE § 34-36-1-6 was not triggered, the jury's request is evaluated unde......
  • Robinson v. State, No. 49S00-9706-CR-387
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • 2 October 1998
    ...evidence. Compare Anglin v. State, 680 N.E.2d 883 (statute held to apply to request to review documentary exhibits) with Riggs v. State, 689 N.E.2d 460, 462 (Ind.Ct.App.1997) (requests "to review exhibits, which are items of physical evidence, are never within the scope of the statute&......
  • Bouye v. State, No. 49S00-9703-CR-201
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • 20 July 1998
    ...any disagreement about the testimony or does not ask for clarification of a legal issue, the statute does not apply. See Riggs v. State, 689 N.E.2d 460 (Ind.Ct.App.1997); Johnson v. State, 674 N.E.2d 180 (Ind.Ct.App.1996); State v. Chandler, 673 N.E.2d 482 (Ind.Ct.App.1996); Jones v. State,......
  • Gibson v. State, No. 55A05-9704-CR-152
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • 28 April 1998
    ...necessarily stems from disagreement "is to engage in an impermissible judicial revision of the statute." Riggs v. State, 689 N.E.2d 460, 463 (Ind.Ct.App.1997). Page 752 We disagree with such a narrow interpretation of the statute. 1 We are not convinced that requiring express disa......

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