Blake Layman’s Brief to the Appeals Court

For the appeals Blake Layman is being represented by Cara Schaefer Wieneke and Joel C. Wieneke from the Wieneke Law Offices in Plainfield Indiana. According to the website of the Wieneke Law Offices both Joel and Cara clerked at the Indiana Court of Appeals and “aided in the drafting of over 250 judicial opinions”. Since working for the Court of Appeals they have handled “over 100 civil and criminal appeals” and have appeared before the Indiana Court of Appeals and the Indiana Supreme Court. In their appeals brief  supporting Blake Layman (click here to read the brief) Cara and Joel Wieneke make a number of arguments.    Central to the brief is highlighting the failure of Curtis Hill and the Elkhart Court System to take into account the juvenile status of Blake Layman (Blake was 16 when Danzele was shot by the homeowner) during the initial trial.

Blake Layman -- appeal brief

The opening paragraph of Blake Layman’s brief.

The lawyers for Blake Layman use four recent cases decided by the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) to highlight how recent scientific developments are dramatically changing the way court systems across the USA are dealing with juveniles. Cara and Joel Wieneke specifically highlight how SCOTUS has sent a message across the USA on the importance of juvenile justice.  SCOTUS has done this by accepting the overwhelming evidence, presented by scientists, that shows that the less developed teenage brain has a significant impact on a juvenile’s decision to participate in criminality.

To help understand some of the science the brief references the following TED lecture on the adolescent brain (page 25 footnote 10 of the brief).

Cara and Joel Wieneke continue by arguing that Blake’s rights were violated because he never appeared before a juvenile court. The lawyers argue that an impartial juvenile court could have better made the determination of where to put Blake on trial given his age. Instead that decision was made by Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill who was not impartial and had a political motivation in making the decision.

In further sections the lawyers make arguments supporting the amicus brief of the Indiana Public Defender Council which took issue with the application of the felony murder rule in this case. Of specific interest in the argument made by Blake’s legal team that the felony murder (when a co-perpetrator is killed) should not apply to juveniles because those juveniles did not have intent to commit murder and do not necessarily have the cognitive ability to full rationalize the consequences of their actions. The lawyers remind the court that in a brief, accepted by SCOTUS and written by the American Psychological Association, the following was written,

Juveniles differ from adults in their ability to foresee and take into account the consequences of their behavior. By definition, adolescents have less life experience on which to draw, making it less likely that they will fully apprehend the potential negative consequences of their actions.

The brief goes on to argue that the 55-year sentence given Blake did not take into account his age and cognitive development. To support this argument the lawyers highlight the Indiana case of Evans v. State. Evans who was an adult with a long juvenile criminal history participated in a robbery. During the robbery Evans and his accomplices threw cement blocks at two men killing one and wounding the other. In that case Evans received a 50-year sentence for felony murder. The brief asks how this is consistent with fair justice when Blake, a juvenile, who did not kill, did not intend to kill received a 55 year sentence.

In the conclusion the brief asks the Court to vacate Blake’s conviction or at the very least re-sentence Blake based upon the many mitigating factors highlighted in the brief.

This is a well-written well-argued brief that has been carefully researched and presented. This blog has argued from our very first post that the problem with the way this case was dealt with was the fact that Elkhart ignored the juvenile factor. The justices of the Court of Appeals have a lot to think about as they make their decision. What is certain is that the decisions made in this case will have an impact on juvenile justice in Indiana for years to come.


Read the brief written to support Blake Layman — Blake Layman’s Brief