ILNews

Court reverses auto theft conviction

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2007
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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a conviction of auto theft and remanded the case to the trial court, citing insufficient evidence to prove the defendant had exclusive possession of the vehicle from the time of the theft until police saw him in the stolen car.

In Steven Shelby v. State of Indiana, 49A05-0704-CR-202, Shelby appealed his conviction and sentence of auto theft, a Class D felony, and the trial court's finding him to be a habitual offender.

On Nov. 7,2006, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Officer Daniel Bennett saw two people sitting in a Buick in a parking lot. The Buick was similar to one that was reported stolen Oct. 23, 2006. Bennett followed the car to a house, where the people in it parked and walked up the street. Bennett stopped them - Shelby was one of the people - and asked why they were leaving their car at the house. Shelby replied it was not his car, he didn't drive it, and gave the officer his learner's permit.

Police discovered the car was stolen and arrested Shelby. Police noticed the steering column was broken, and found a butter knife on the car's floorboard, but no keys or other items that could be used to start the car were found on Shelby. After reading Shelby his Miranda rights, he admitted to driving the vehicle.

During trial, the court refused defense counsel jury instructions that when a considerable amount of time has passed from the date of the theft and an arrest, something needs to demonstrate the accused has had exclusive possession of the stolen item for the entire time. The court also refused defense jury instructions indicating unexplained possession of stolen property may be sufficient to support an auto theft conviction, but that is only permitted if the property is recently stolen.

The jury found Shelby guilty of auto theft; he later pleaded guilty to the habitual offender allegation and was sentenced to consecutive sentences of 545 days for auto theft and 1,285 days on the habitual offender charge. Shelby appealed, challenging the sufficiency of evidence to support his conviction on the auto theft charge.

In an opinion authored by Judge Cale Bradford, the Court of Appeals determined there was not sufficient evidence to convict Shelby. When there is considerable time between the actual theft and an arrest, there must be something that shows the defendant had exclusive possession of the property during that time period, citing Muse v. State, 419 N.E.2d at 1304.

There was a 15-day gap between the theft and Shelby's possession of the car, and his possession would not be characterized as recent. His conviction cannot be upheld merely because he possessed or exercised control of the car, wrote Judge Bradford. The state did not show evidence that suggested Shelby had exclusive possession of the car from the time it was stolen until he was arrested, the court found. Also, there was no evidence on Shelby of keys or other items that would be used to start the vehicle, only the butter knife on the car's floorboard. No connection between Shelby and the knife was ever established.

The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case to the trial court with instructions to vacate Shelby's conviction for auto theft and the resulting habitual offender finding.
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  2. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  3. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  4. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  5. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

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