Stephenson v. State, No. 87S00-0106-PD-285.

Docket NºNo. 87S00-0106-PD-285.
Citation864 N.E.2d 1022
Case DateApril 26, 2007
CourtSupreme Court of Indiana
864 N.E.2d 1022
John M. STEPHENSON, Appellant (Petitioner below),
v.
STATE of Indiana, Appellee (Respondent below).
No. 87S00-0106-PD-285.
Supreme Court of Indiana.
April 26, 2007.

[864 N.E.2d 1026]

Susan K. Carpenter, Public Defender of Indiana, Thomas C. Hinesley, Steven H. Schutte, Deputy Public Defenders, Indianapolis, IN, Attorneys for Appellant.

[864 N.E.2d 1027]

Steve Carter, Attorney General of Indiana, James B. Martin, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, IN, Attorneys for Appellee.

On Petition for Post-Conviction Relief

BOEHM, Justice.


After an eight-month trial, a jury found John Matthew Stephenson guilty of burglary, theft, and the murders of three people. At trial, the defense contended that the murders of John "Jay" Tyler; his wife, Kathy Tyler; and Brandy Southard were the result of a drug operation unrelated to Stephenson. The testimony of several defense witnesses implicated persons Stephenson contended were involved in the drug ring. Stephenson also presented alibi witnesses who testified to his whereabouts at the time the State alleged the murders took place. The jury found Stephenson guilty and found multiple murders as an aggravating circumstance supporting the death penalty. The trial court, following the jury's recommendation, sentenced Stephenson to death. We affirmed both the convictions and death sentence. Stephenson v. State, 742 N.E.2d 463 (Ind. 2001), cert. denied, 534 U.S. 1105, 122 S.Ct. 905, 151 L.Ed.2d 874 (2002).

During both the guilt and sentencing phases of trial, Stephenson was forced to wear a stun belt in the jury's presence. No objection was made by Stephenson's trial counsel to the stun belt, and the trial record made no reference to the use of the belt. Stephenson sought post-conviction relief, alleging that (1) the use of a stun belt was structural and fundamental error; (2) trial counsel and appellate counsel were ineffective on a number of grounds, including trial counsel's failure to object to the belt; (3) new evidence undermined confidence in his convictions and death sentence; (4) prejudicial outside influences biased the jury; and (5) the State withheld material exculpatory evidence. Post-conviction relief was denied, and this appeal followed.

We affirm the denial of post-conviction relief. Specifically, we hold:

(1) Stephenson's freestanding claims of error based on his wearing a stun belt at trial were available on direct appeal and are therefore foreclosed in post-conviction proceedings;

(2) Because appearing in readily visible restraints is inherently prejudicial, if the issue had been raised on appeal, reversal would have been required unless the State had proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the error did not affect the result as to either guilt or the penalty;

(3) Stephenson's claim of ineffective assistance of counsel requires him to establish substandard performance of counsel and a reasonable probability that the result would have been different but for counsel's errors and omissions;

(4) Even if Stephenson's trial counsel's failure to object to the belt or to the lack of finding of need for any form of restraint fell below prevailing professional norms, Stephenson has failed to establish a reasonable probability that any such objection would have prevailed; he therefore has not established a reasonable probability that the result of either the guilt or the penalty phases would have changed.

(5) In death penalty cases, we are to evaluate claims of newly discovered evidence under the standard established in 2003 by Indiana Code section 35-30-2-9(k), which is whether the previously undiscovered evidence undermines confidence in the conviction or sentence;

864 N.E.2d 1028

(6) Because Stephenson's claims of newly discovered evidence largely turn on the credibility of various witnesses and were rejected by the post-conviction court, they do not undermine confidence in Stephenson's convictions or death sentence;

(7) Stephenson was not deprived of his right to a fair trial or due process because of the jury's exposure to various extraneous influences; and

(8) The post-conviction court's conclusion that Stephenson failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the State suppressed evidence that was material to his guilt or punishment is affirmed.

Standard of Review

Post-conviction proceedings are civil proceedings that provide defendants the opportunity to raise issues not known or available at the time of the original trial or direct appeal. Conner v. State, 711 N.E.2d 1238, 1244 (Ind.1999). Thus, if an issue was known and available but not raised on direct appeal, the issue is procedurally foreclosed. Timberlake v. State, 753 N.E.2d 591, 597 (Ind.2001). If an issue was raised and decided on direct appeal, it is res judicata. Id. If a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel was not raised on direct appeal, that claim is properly raised at a post-conviction proceeding. Id. In post-conviction proceedings, the defendant bears the burden of proof by a preponderance of the evidence. Wallace v. State, 553 N.E.2d 456, 458 (Ind. 1990).

We review the post-conviction court's factual findings under a "clearly erroneous" standard but do not defer to the post-conviction court's legal conclusions. Stevens v. State, 770 N.E.2d 739, 746 (Ind.2002). We will not reweigh the evidence or judge the credibility of the witnesses; we examine only the probative evidence and reasonable inferences that support the decision of the post-conviction court. Conner, 711 N.E.2d at 1245.

I. Use of a Stun Belt at Trial

Stephenson contends that his appearance in a stun belt before the jury at his trial violated his federal constitutional rights under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments and also violated state law. This claim is asserted as both a freestanding claim of error and a ground for ineffective assistance of trial counsel. As an initial matter, this Court has ruled that the use of a stun belt is not to be ordered in Indiana courts. Wrinkles v. State, 749 N.E.2d 1179 (Ind.2001). We agree with Stephenson that if this were an appeal from a trial conducted after Wrinkles was decided and Stephenson had objected to the use of the belt at trial, he would be entitled to a new trial as a matter of state law. In addition, Deck v. Missouri, 544 U.S. 622, 125 S.Ct. 2007, 161 L.Ed.2d 953 (2005), decided after Stephenson's trial and appeal, clarified a number of relevant federal constitutional principles governing the use of restraints. However, Stephenson's trial and direct appeal occurred before Wrinkles and Deck were decided, and there was no objection to the use of the belt at Stephenson's trial. This appeal from the denial of post-conviction relief therefore presents the threshold issue of which, if any, of the claims Stephenson now asserts have been procedurally defaulted and how these issues relate to the claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.

A. Some Relevant Settled Principles

We think it useful to set out some settled principles of substantive law before addressing these questions. The Supreme Court of the United States has not ruled on the use of a stun belt as a

864 N.E.2d 1029

violation of the Federal Constitution, but the Court has given guidance on a number of relevant points. Requiring a defendant to appear in jail garb has long been held to deny due process. Holbrook v. Flynn, 475 U.S. 560, 567, 106 S.Ct. 1340, 89 L.Ed.2d 525 (1986); Estelle v. Williams, 425 U.S. 501, 503, 96 S.Ct. 1691, 48 L.Ed.2d 126 (1976). An objection to jail garb is required before the "compulsion" required for a due process violation is found. Estelle, 425 U.S. at 512-13, 96 S.Ct. 1691. In short, jail garb is categorically prohibited by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments if the defendant objects.

Unlike jail garb, shackling may be imposed, but only if the trial court makes a particularized finding of need in the specific case. This rule has long been in place under the common law. Deck, 544 U.S. at 626-27, 125 S.Ct. 2007; Coates v. State, 487 N.E.2d 167, 169 (Ind.Ct.App.1985). For many years courts have thought this to be a requirement of federal due process. Illinois v. Allen, 397 U.S. 337, 90 S.Ct. 1057, 25 L.Ed.2d 353 (1970); see also Deck, 544 U.S. at 629, 125 S.Ct. 2007. Most recently, this doctrine has been held applicable to the penalty phase as well as the guilt phase of a death penalty trial. Deck, 544 U.S. at 627, 125 S.Ct. 2007. Deck also made clear, if there had been any doubt, that this rule has "constitutional dimensions" and unnecessary shackling constitutes a denial of due process. Id. at 629, 632, 125 S.Ct. 2007. Jail garb and unnecessary shackling are both "inherently prejudicial" and, if proper objection is made, require reversal unless the State establishes "beyond a reasonable doubt that the [shackling] error complained of did not contribute to the verdict." Id. at 635, 125 S.Ct. 2007 (alteration in original) (quoting Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18, 24, 87 S.Ct. 824, 17 L.Ed.2d 705 (1967)).

As explained in Deck, three reasons underlie the prohibition on unnecessary shackling. First, visible shackling "undermines the presumption of innocence and the related fairness of the fact-finding process." Id. at 630, 125 S.Ct. 2007. Second, shackling can interfere with the defendant's ability to communicate with his lawyer and participate in the defense. Id. at 631, 125 S.Ct. 2007. Third, shackles impair the dignity of the judicial process. Id. at 631-32, 125 S.Ct. 2007.

We have already noted that Indiana state law no longer permits the use of stun belts in Indiana courts, but that rule had not been announced at the time of Stephenson's trial. The prohibition of stun belts is not based solely on the considerations that underlie the prohibition on jail garb. It is also grounded in the perceived effect on the defendant of the threat of imminent high voltage. It thus is not wholly dependent upon the jury's awareness of the belt,...

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130 practice notes
  • Wrinkles v. Buss, No. 05-2747.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • August 12, 2008
    ...prejudice in terms of the defendant's visibility before the jury in restraints. Id. at 1193-95; see also Stephenson v. Indiana, 864 N.E.2d 1022, 1029, 1032 (Ind.2007) (discussing reasonableness of counsel's choice "given that the case law addressing the issue had largely focused on the visi......
  • Stanley v. State, CR-18-0397
    • United States
    • Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals
    • May 29, 2020
    ...failure to object to the court's error, and the State had proved beyond a reasonable doubt the error was harmless); Stephenson v. State, 864 N.E.2d 1022, 1038 (Ind. 2007) (holding the defendant bears the burden of establishing Strickland prejudice when asserting an ineffective-assistance cl......
  • Ritchie v. State, No. 49S00-0409-PD-420.
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • November 8, 2007
    ...96 S.Ct. 1691, 48 L.Ed.2d 126 (1976); Illinois v. Allen, 397 U.S. 337, 344, 90 S.Ct. 1057, 25 L.Ed.2d 353 (1970); Stephenson v. State, 864 N.E.2d 1022, 1032 (Ind.2007). An accused should not be compelled to go before the jury dressed in jail clothes or shackled because: (1) the risk of dilu......
  • Durden v. State, Supreme Court Case No. 18S–CR–329
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • June 20, 2018
    ...own defense amounted to a denial of effective assistance of counsel") (internal quotation marks omitted). See also Stephenson v. State , 864 N.E.2d 1022, 1030 (Ind. 2007) (foreclosing defendant's claim, in a post-conviction proceeding, that his appearance in a stun belt before the jury cons......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
130 cases
  • Wrinkles v. Buss, No. 05-2747.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • August 12, 2008
    ...prejudice in terms of the defendant's visibility before the jury in restraints. Id. at 1193-95; see also Stephenson v. Indiana, 864 N.E.2d 1022, 1029, 1032 (Ind.2007) (discussing reasonableness of counsel's choice "given that the case law addressing the issue had largely focused on the visi......
  • Stanley v. State, CR-18-0397
    • United States
    • Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals
    • May 29, 2020
    ...failure to object to the court's error, and the State had proved beyond a reasonable doubt the error was harmless); Stephenson v. State, 864 N.E.2d 1022, 1038 (Ind. 2007) (holding the defendant bears the burden of establishing Strickland prejudice when asserting an ineffective-assistance cl......
  • Ritchie v. State, No. 49S00-0409-PD-420.
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • November 8, 2007
    ...96 S.Ct. 1691, 48 L.Ed.2d 126 (1976); Illinois v. Allen, 397 U.S. 337, 344, 90 S.Ct. 1057, 25 L.Ed.2d 353 (1970); Stephenson v. State, 864 N.E.2d 1022, 1032 (Ind.2007). An accused should not be compelled to go before the jury dressed in jail clothes or shackled because: (1) the risk of dilu......
  • Durden v. State, Supreme Court Case No. 18S–CR–329
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • June 20, 2018
    ...own defense amounted to a denial of effective assistance of counsel") (internal quotation marks omitted). See also Stephenson v. State , 864 N.E.2d 1022, 1030 (Ind. 2007) (foreclosing defendant's claim, in a post-conviction proceeding, that his appearance in a stun belt before the jury cons......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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