Schiro v. State

Decision Date28 June 1985
Docket NumberNo. 1084S423,1084S423
Citation479 N.E.2d 556
PartiesThomas N. SCHIRO, Appellant, v. STATE of Indiana, Appellee.
CourtIndiana Supreme Court

Susan K. Carpenter, Public Defender, Frances Watson Hardy, Deputy Public Defender, Indianapolis, for appellant.

Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen., Joseph N. Stevenson, Deputy Atty. Gen., Indianapolis, for appellee.

GIVAN, Chief Justice.

Appellant was convicted by a jury of Murder While Committing or Attempting to Commit Rape. The trial court sentenced appellant to death. The conviction and death sentence were affirmed by this Court on direct appeal. Schiro v. State (1983), Ind., 451 N.E.2d 1047 (DeBruler, J., and Prentice, J., dissenting as to sentence), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 104 S.Ct. 510, 78 L.Ed.2d 699. Appellant's Petition for Post-Conviction Relief was denied. He now appeals.

The facts of this case were set out at length in the opinion on direct appeal. Schiro, supra at 1049-50. They will not be repeated here.

Appellant raises two issues in this appeal: whether the post-conviction court erred in finding the death penalty was proper in light of his allegations that the trial judge was biased and improperly considered appellant's behavior during the course of the trial in his sentencing determination; and whether the post-conviction court erred in finding appellant was not denied effective assistance of counsel.

In reviewing the denial of a post-conviction petition, this Court does not weigh evidence nor judge the credibility of witnesses. Owens v. State (1984), Ind., 464 N.E.2d 1277. The petitioner must satisfy this Court that the evidence as a whole leads unmistakably to a decision in his favor. Bean v. State (1984), Ind., 467 N.E.2d 671.

Appellant's first issue is divided into four subissues. In the first three subissues, which address the trial court's consideration of his behavior during the trial, appellant alleges: 1) that the information could not be relied upon because it was not introduced into evidence; 2) that because he did not testify, reliance on observations of his behavior violated his Fifth Amendment rights; and 3) that he was denied his right to effective assistance of counsel because defense counsel was not afforded an opportunity to comment on facts influencing the sentencing decision. The fourth subissue concerns a comment made by the trial judge which appellant argues demonstrates the judge was biased and therefore unable to objectively render the sentencing determination.

Upon review of appellant's direct appeal, this Court found the trial court's original findings pertaining to the sentencing did not set out clearly and properly the court's reasons for imposing the death penalty. Schiro, supra at 1056. We ordered the court to make written findings setting out the aggravating circumstance proved beyond a reasonable doubt and the mitigating circumstances, if any, as specified in Ind.Code Sec. 35-50-2-9. Id. In its nunc pro tunc entry the court found that the aggravating circumstance set out in Ind.Code Sec. 35-50-2-9(b)(1) was proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

The court then stated that it found no mitigating circumstances, and addressed each of the possible mitigating circumstances delineated in Ind.Code Sec. 35-50-2-9. In reference to the statutory mitigating circumstances concerning a defendant's mental or emotional condition, subsection (c)(2), and impairment of a defendant's capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct, subsection (c)(6), the court made the following finding:

"This Court personally observed the Defendant, while the jury was present, making continual rocking motions, which did not stop throughout the trial except when the jury left the Courtroom. In the Court's outer chambers, out of the presence of the jury, in the eight days of trial, the Court frequently observed the Defendant sitting calmly and not rocking. It is apparent to the Court that this may well have influenced and misled the jury in its recommendation."

Appellant contends this finding constitutes the court's primary basis for sentencing him to death after the jury had recommended the death penalty not be imposed. He argues that "obviously" the court based its death penalty judgment on its observations, representing an "absolute denial of due process."

We cannot agree with appellant's conclusory assertion that the court based its judgment on observations of his behavior. The court, as prescribed by the death penalty statute, found the existence of an aggravating circumstance proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Schiro, supra at 1058. It addressed each of the possible mitigating circumstances delineated in the statute. Regarding appellant's mental state, the court made additional findings which cited testimony by psychiatric experts and evidence of appellant's attempt to conceal his crime. Id. at 1059. While the court's observations were certainly germane to its consideration of the jury's recommendation, it cannot be said its finding that appellant may have misled the jury constituted the basis for imposition of the death penalty.

Neither can we agree with appellant's contention that consideration of his behavior was impermissible because it was information not admitted into evidence. It is axiomatic that a trial court, within its discretion, can consider a defendant's behavior in the courtroom, regardless of whether the jury is present. The court can properly consider such "non-evidentiary" information as the pre-sentence investigation report and its perception of a defendant's remorse or lack thereof. We find no authority to support the conclusion appellant would have us draw, that a judge in a capital case is precluded from considering a defendant's behavior during the course of the trial if evidence of such behavior is not admitted into evidence.

Appellant nevertheless argues that under Gardner v. Florida (1977), 430 U.S. 349, 97 S.Ct. 1197, 51 L.Ed.2d 393, the death penalty is invalid. In that case a Florida jury recommended a life sentence. The trial judge, as in the instant case, overrode the jury's recommendation and sentenced the defendant to death. In imposing the death penalty the judge stated that his decision was based in part on a presentence report which contained a confidential portion not available to the defense. Id. at 353, 97 S.Ct. at 1202, 51 L.Ed.2d at 398-99.

The United States Supreme Court vacated the death sentence. The Court concluded the petitioner was denied due process because the death sentence was imposed, at least in part, on the basis of information which the petitioner had no opportunity to deny or explain. Id. at 362, 97 S.Ct. at 1207, 51 L.Ed.2d at 404. The Court found that because the confidential portion of the report was not part of the record on appeal, the Florida Supreme Court was unable to consider "the total record" in its review. Id. at 361, 97 S.Ct. at 1206, 51 L.Ed.2d at 404.

The instant case is distinguishable. At the sentencing hearing the judge expressly stated his observations of appellant's behavior and its relevance to the sentencing determination. Appellant thus had an opportunity to challenge the observations, and the judge's conclusion based thereon, either contemporaneously or upon filing his motion to correct error. Further, this Court explicitly considered the controverted finding on review of appellant's direct appeal. Schiro, supra at 1057, 1059.

We also note that testimony was introduced at trial by both sides in reference to appellant's prior rocking behavior. Appellant introduced testimony that he rocked in the presence of witnesses. Despite appellant's contention of lack of notice of the court's conclusion based on such behavior, defense counsel, who was certainly aware of the continual rocking motions referred to by the court, could have presented additional evidence at the sentencing hearing pertaining to the statutory mitigating circumstances. See Ind.Code Sec. 35-50-2-9(d). The due process violation found in Gardner, supra is not present here.

Appellant contends that because under the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Art. 1, Sec. 14 of the Indiana Constitution the general trial demeanor and manner of a defendant who does not take the stand cannot be considered against him and no inference can be drawn from his failure to testify, the trial court's consideration of his behavior violates his right against self-incrimination.

This argument is without merit. The sole case cited by appellant, People v. Ramirez (1983), 98 Ill.2d 439, 75 Ill.Dec. 241, 457 N.E.2d 31, is inapposite to the circumstances of the instant case. In Ramirez the State's attorney commented to the sentencing jury that the defendant had "sat silent" and offered no explanation for the crime. The Supreme Court of Illinois' decision to vacate the death sentence was based on the prosecutor's comment and the trial judge's refusal to properly instruct the jury not to consider the defendant's decision not to testify at the sentencing hearing. Id. at 472-73, 457 N.E.2d at 47.

Although the impermissible comment in Ramirez was couched in terms of the defendant's "conduct", the crux of the constitutional violation was the impropriety of commenting on the defendant's decision not to testify. Here, the trial judge's observations were directed to two of the possible mitigating factors and to the jury's recommendation, not to appellant's exercising of his constitutional rights. The record does not reveal any comment by the prosecution or by the court made in reference to appellant's decision not to testify at the sentencing hearing.

In an argument related to his contention that the trial court erred in considering non-evidentiary information, appellant asserts he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to effective representation upon the sentence being based on information which he had no opportunity to deny or explain.

This argument is also without merit. At the sentencing hearing the...

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