LAFAYETTE, La. — The man accused of fatally shooting a Lafayette Police Department officer and injuring three others, Ian Paul Howard, was back in court Monday where a judge ruled to have the trial heard by a jury.
Ad Hoc Judge Ellis Daigle presided over the hearing and reversed a previous ruling by 15th Judicial District Judge Jules Edwards who granted Howard’s request to waive a jury trial in favor of a trial by judge.
That ruling came on Jan. 2 when Howard changed his plea of not guilty to a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity and waived his right to a jury trial.
The district attorney’s office opposed Howard’s jury waiver and then filed a motion to reconsider his waiver of a trial by jury.
Assistant District Attorney Alan Haney argued that Howard had waited too long to waive his right to a jury trial.
A. A defendant charged with an offense other than one punishable by death may knowingly and intelligently waive a trial by jury and elect to be tried by the judge.
B. The defendant shall exercise his right to waive trial by jury in accordance with Article I, Section 17 of the Constitution of Louisiana. The waiver shall be by written motion filed in the district court not later than forty-five days prior to the date the case is set for trial. The motion shall be signed by the defendant and shall also be signed by defendant's counsel unless the defendant has waived his right to counsel.
C. With the consent of the district attorney the defendant may waive trial by jury within forty-five days prior to the commencement of trial.
D. A waiver of trial by jury is irrevocable and cannot be withdrawn by the defendant.
Haney said that Howard has a constitutional right to a jury trial, but not a trial by judge.
Stephen Singer, Howard’s defense attorney, argued that under the Louisiana Constitution, Howard could waive a jury trial in certain circumstances.
Singer stated that according to court transcripts Howard was never informed that he had a right to waive a jury trial, so there was no way that he could have chosen to waive his right to a jury trial within the 45 days.
Singer also argued that by the time Howard chose to have a trial by judge there was no trial date set for reasons not related to this matter.
The trial date in this case had originally been set for Sept. 24, 2018, but was continued after a request by Howard and his attorneys.
Haney argued that Howard is no longer entitled to a trial by judge because the 45-day window to do so in this case applies to that initial trial date.
Haney cited a Louisiana Supreme Court case, State v. Bazile, which states:
The reference in the constitutional provision to a “trial date” must, we believe, refer to the initial trial setting of the matter. As this case shows, an initial trial setting may be continued again and again, which would turn a defendant’s actual date of trial into a moving target. Since trial settings are often extended for a variety of reasons, there must exist a fixed point in time by which the timeliness of a defendant’s jury waiver can be determined. If the term “trial date” is interpreted to mean a date which could be continued, this interpretation would conflict with the clear intention of the provision to prevent last minute jury trial waivers. Thus, we interpret the term “jury date” in [Louisiana Constitution Article] I, § 17(a) to mean the initial trial setting.
Singer countered that the new trial date of July 13, 2020 was agreed to by both parties and is not a situation where there was a last minute waiver that surprised the state’s prosecutors.
Before making his decision, the judge asked Singer who's responsibility it was to inform a defendant of their right to waive a jury trial.
Singer replied that it was the court’s responsibility to inform the defendant of that right and that the court cannot simply rely on counsel nor is there a specified time period to inform them.
The judge then sided with Haney and the district attorney’s office and ruled that Howard is required to have a trial by jury over the defense’s objection.
Howard, 29, has two pending cases: a first-degree murder case in the 2017 shooting death of Lafayette Cpl. Michael Middlebrook - for which prosecutors intend to pursue the death penalty - and in a separate case, three charges of attempted first-degree murder that involve the collateral victims.
Monday’s ruling applies to Howard’s attempted first-degree murder case, which had numerous delays last year including a determination if the trial would require a unanimous jury verdict and a subpoena to KATC and other outlets for their coverage to justify a change of venue for the trial.