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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  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.