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Appeals court rules on Ohio River phone-stalking case

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has reaffirmed its standing that prosecutors can’t elevate a misdemeanor crime to a felony if the defendant didn’t know the victim worked in law enforcement.

But in a three-judge panel’s ruling today in Keith Eberle v. State of Indiana, No. 58A01-1003-CR-105, the trial judge’s error in allowing that elevation doesn’t even matter because the conviction was merged into a felony stalking charge the appellate court says was sufficiently supported by evidence.

The case revolves around a Rising Sun woman, V.L., who repeatedly received lewd photos and phone calls on her cell phone over the course of a few weeks in 2008, while in the Ohio River areas of Ohio and Dearborn counties and also across the water in Boone County, Kentucky. Though she worked as an Ohio County jail matron and also dated a sheriff’s deputy in that county, the harassment didn’t appear to be tied to her public duties. Police tracked the phone calls to Dearborn County resident Keith Eberle and charged him with multiple intimidation and harassment counts, then later added two counts of felony stalking against him.

After a three-day trial in September 2009, a jury found him guilty on all charges and Eberle received an eight-year sentence in the Department of Correction. Ohio Circuit Judge James D. Humphrey concluded that the intimidation and harassment counts were lesser-included offenses of stalking and merged them for sentencing purposes, but didn’t vacate those convictions and entered judgments on all of the counts – including one of the merged intimidation charges that had been elevated from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class C felony because V.L. was a law enforcement official.

On appeal, Eberle challenged whether Ohio County was a proper venue, the trial court’s refusal of proposed venue instructions, evidence sufficiency on his convictions, and whether the trial court’s failure to vacate the lesser-included offenses after merging them for sentencing purposes violated Indiana’s prohibition against double jeopardy.

Eberle won on two points, but those aspects ultimately do not change the result and are mostly harmless in the grand scheme of the case, according to the appellate court’s decision. The appellate court found the venue was correct because that’s where the victim lived, and also because state statute allows for the trial to happen anywhere along the border of where the offense may have happened – since electronic communications were at play in the area along the Ohio River, the court found any of those three counties would have been a proper venue.

The judges also determined that the state provided sufficient evidence to support the stalking charge, but did note the judge erred in not vacating the prior lesser-included felonies and ordered Judge Humphreys to do that on remand. But the appeals court also noted that had it not been merged or dismissed on the double jeopardy point, it wouldn’t have been possible to enhance the intimidation count from a misdemeanor to a felony. The rationale is that Eberle didn’t know V.L. was a county jail matron, and so the enhancement statute couldn’t be used based on past caselaw.

“The purpose… for providing increased penalties for crimes when committed against a public official, such as a police officer, is to afford a greater degree of protection to persons who might be subjected to special risks because they are performing public duties,” the court wrote, citing a 2009 decision of Masotto v. State, 907 N.E.2d 1083, 1085. “Public policy requires that law enforcement officials who are subject to the greater threats than the ordinary citizen be given additional protection, but only when the increased risks result from actions involving the execution of their official duties.”

Judge Elaine Brown concurred in result, issuing a separate opinion that says she would have held that any error in the Ohio County venue finding on harassment and intimidation is harmless given that the panel’s remanding with instructions to vacate Eberle’s convictions on double jeopardy grounds.

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  1. Indianapolis employers harassment among minorities AFRICAN Americans needs to be discussed the metro Indianapolis area is horrible when it comes to harassing African American employees especially in the local healthcare facilities. Racially profiling in the workplace is an major issue. Please make it better because I'm many civil rights leaders would come here and justify that Indiana is a state the WORKS only applies to Caucasian Americans especially in Hamilton county. Indiana targets African Americans in the workplace so when governor pence is trying to convince people to vote for him this would be awesome publicity for the Presidency Elections.

  2. Wishing Mary Willis only God's best, and superhuman strength, as she attempts to right a ship that too often strays far off course. May she never suffer this personal affect, as some do who attempt to change a broken system: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QojajMsd2nE

  3. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  4. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  5. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

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