Convict fights tooth and nail, loses on the tooth

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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A tooth is considered a "bodily member or organ" within the definition of the state's aggravated battery statute, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled March 7.

Deciding a case of first impression in Derrick C. Smith v. State of Indiana, No. 45A03-0708-CR-357, the appellate court ruled that a Lake Superior judge properly determined that enough evidence existed to support Smith's conviction under the state's aggravated battery statute.

Incarcerated at the Lake County Jail in August 2006, Smith and another inmate overpowered a jail officer and tried to escape. Smith hit the female officer in the mouth, pushed her to the ground, and sat on her before dragging her into the bathroom and trying to get out of the facility using her clocking card and keys. Both were apprehended before an escape, and the officer later had to have the tooth surgically removed and get an artificial tooth cemented in its place.

Smith was charged with multiple counts of robbery, criminal confinement, aggravated battery, attempted escape, battery, and theft; a jury convicted him last year. Smith was sentenced to 23 years, but appealed on claims that included not enough evidence existed to support the aggravated battery conviction. His basis was that the officer's broken tooth doesn't fit the statute's definition of "bodily member or organ."

Evidence presented at trial established that the officer permanently lost the function of her tooth, and that was sufficient evidence to support Smith's aggravated battery conviction, Chief Judge John Baker wrote. Since the statute only requires that one of the listed injuries be supported, the court declined to address another of Smith's claims that the state didn't present enough evidence that the officer was permanently disfigured from the attack.

"While there is no Indiana precedent for the notion that a tooth is a bodily member or organ for purposes of our aggravated battery statute, several other jurisdictions have analyzed similar statutes and arrived at that conclusion," he wrote.

The court relied on decisions that included Rivers v. State, 565 S.E.2d 596, 597 (Ga. Ct. App. 2002); McBeath v. State, 739 So.2d 451, 455 (Miss. Ct. App. 1999); and Lenzy v. State, 689 S.W.2d 305, 310 (Tex. Ct. App. 1985). Those decisions held that teeth are included in the states' respective statutes, as teeth can be lost or rendered in a battery, loss of a tooth constituted "serious bodily injury," and that teeth are separate, definable parts of the body that meet the term "bodily member or organ."

While the court ruled against Smith on those and other claims, the panel did determine that his convictions for felony robbery and aggravated battery violate the Indiana Constitution's double jeopardy clause. Smith didn't raise the claim, but the court raised this issue on its own because of the fundamental right implication.

Evidence presented at trial was how Smith hit the officer twice in the mouth and knocked her tooth loose; the court believes that evidence would be the same used to establish essential injury elements of both the elevated robbery and aggravated battery charges. That also leads to a modification in the judge's sentencing decision, Chief Judge Baker wrote.

The appellate court's ruling remands this case to Lake Superior Judge Diane Ross Boswell with instructions to downgrade Smith's Class B felony robbery conviction to the lesser Class C level and impose an eight-year sentence. That means his sentence would remain the same, as the sentence runs at the same time as the 20-year aggravated battery sentence component and doesn't impact the three-year confinement sentence that runs consecutively.

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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.