Court tosses man's stalking conviction

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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Simply parking on a public street and watching someone's home doesn't alone fall within the definition of "impermissible" conduct and can't be considered stalking, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today.

In a case of first impression, the appellate panel ruled 2-1 on Donald D. Vanhorn v. State of Indiana, 84-A01-0711-CR-505, overturning the Terre Haute man's conviction for felony stalking. At issue in the case was the interplay between "harassment" and "impermissible contact" and whether enough evidence existed to support a stalking conviction.

Donald VanHorn knew the alleged victim, Robert Franks, from a radio service business where Franks worked and VanHorn was a regular customer. In mid-January 2007, Franks' wife noticed a black sport utility vehicle parked on the opposite side of the street near their home. The same thing happened three more times, and Franks took photos and notified police, though VanHorn never made any type of contact. VanHorn was eventually arrested and was tried on a felony stalking charge, and a jury convicted him in August 2007. He received three years probation and six months home detention.

On appeal, the appellate panel examined Indiana Codes 35-45-10-2 and 35-45-10-3, which focus on harassment and impermissible contact. The latter definition includes knowingly or intentionally following or pursuing the victim, and that part of the statute exempts statutorily or constitutionally protected conduct from the definition of harassment.

The Court of Appeals decided that the evidence was insufficient and the contact in this case wasn't "impermissible."

"If being on a city street is found to be 'impermissible' merely because an individual homeowner did not grant permission, then the victim has been improperly granted power over the defendant that the victim does not possess," Judge Terry Crone wrote, noting that a defendant's due process rights must be safeguarded in a situation where that person is lawfully in a public place and conduct alone is alleged to constitute harassment.

"In other words, when the government prohibits an individual from engaging in otherwise lawful conduct, it is important to provide the accused with notice and an opportunity to be heard," he wrote, adding that a protective order could be issued to declare any type of conduct off-limits.

"We do not mean to suggest that no circumstances exist in which only public sightings may constitute harassment or impermissible contact, but in this case nothing occurred that would remotely indicate to VanHorn that his conduct was impermissible."

Judge Cale Bradford dissented, writing that he is sympathetic to the majority's perspective but that he sees the jury system as an adequate safeguard for preventing unfair convictions for lawful behavior.

"By requiring official proof of 'impermissibility' to satisfy the harassment component, the majority adds an element of proof which the crime of 'stalking,' as defined, does not contain," the judge wrote. ... "Given my confidence in the fact finder's ability to discern 'stalking' from lawful activity, I would not disturb VanHorn's conviction."

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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.