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COA: Judge erred in giving jury instruction

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A Jefferson Superior judge erred in giving a jury an instruction on a lesser included offense of domestic battery because there wasn’t a serious evidentiary dispute about whether the battery was committed in the presence of children, the Indiana Court of Appeals held Thursday.

George Michael True appealed his conviction of Class A misdemeanor domestic battery. He was charged with, among other things, Class D felony domestic battery for going to his ex-wife’s apartment and attacking her while his children and another minor relative were staying there. He claimed he couldn’t have been the one to attack her because he was at church and that his ex-wife had the children lie about hearing him and seeing him attack her to influence an ongoing custody battle between the two.  

At the state’s request and over True’s objection, the trial court instructed the jury that it could convict True of Class A misdemeanor domestic battery, which doesn’t require the battery to occur in the presence of a child, as a lesser included offense of the Class D felony domestic battery. The jury convicted him of Class A misdemeanor domestic battery.

In Watts v. State, 885 N.E.2d 1228, 1232-33 (Ind. 2008), the Indiana Supreme Court held that it is reversible error for a trial court to give a lesser included offense instruction at the request of the state in the absence of a serious evidentiary dispute distinguishing the lesser offense from the greater. The COA found that the Watts court’s observations apply in True’s case – the propriety of a defendant’s “all-or-nothing” defense strategy and how such a defense can be improperly undermined by the state obtaining a lesser included offense instruction where the evidence doesn’t warrant it. The Supreme Court also has expressed concern over the possibility of a jury entering a “compromise” verdict.

True pursued an “all-or-nothing” defense strategy, noting conflicting evidence whether he was even at his ex-wife’s apartment the morning she was battered. The evidence was conflicting only on whether True committed any battery at all, not on whether the crime was committed in the presence of children as defined in the domestic battery statute, wrote Judge Michael Barnes in George Michael True v. State of Indiana, No. 39A04-1102-CR-37.

“… we conclude there clearly was no serious evidentiary dispute about whether the battery was committed in the presence of children. Either there was a domestic battery committed in the presence of children, or there was no battery at all. Instructing the jury that it could convict True of Class A misdemeanor domestic battery instead of Class D felony domestic battery improperly invited the jury to reach a ‘compromise’ verdict,” he wrote.

The COA reversed True’s conviction and remanded for further proceedings.
 

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  1. Hysteria? Really Ben? Tell the young lady reported on in the link below that worrying about the sexualizing of our children is mere hysteria. Such thinking is common in the Royal Order of Jesters and other running sex vacays in Thailand or Brazil ... like Indy's Jared Fogle. Those tempted to call such concerns mere histronics need to think on this: http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/a-12-year-old-girl-live-streamed-her-suicide-it-took-two-weeks-for-facebook-to-take-the-video-down/ar-AAlT8ka?li=AA4ZnC&ocid=spartanntp

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  3. This is happening so much. Even in 2016.2017. I hope the father sue for civil rights violation. I hope he sue as more are doing and even without a lawyer as pro-se, he got a good one here. God bless him.

  4. JLAP and other courtiers ... Those running court systems, have most substance abuse issues. Probably self medicating to cover conscience issues arising out of acts furthering govt corruption

  5. I whole-heartedly agree with Doug Church's comment, above. Indiana lawyers were especially fortunate to benefit from Tom Pyrz' leadership and foresight at a time when there has been unprecedented change in the legal profession. Consider how dramatically computer technology and its role in the practice of law have changed over the last 25 years. The impact of the great recession of 2008 dramatically changed the composition and structure of law firms across the country. Economic pressures altered what had long been a routine, robust annual recruitment process for law students and recent law school graduates. That has, in turn, impacted law school enrollment across the country, placing upward pressure on law school tuition. The internet continues to drive significant changes in the provision of legal services in both public and private sectors. The ISBA has worked to make quality legal representation accessible and affordable for all who need it and to raise general public understanding of Indiana laws and procedures. How difficult it would have been to tackle each of these issues without Tom's leadership. Tom has set the tone for positive change at the ISBA to meet the evolving practice needs of lawyers of all backgrounds and ages. He has led the organization with vision, patience, flexibility, commitment, thoughtfulness & even humor. He will, indeed, be a tough act to follow. Thank you, Tom, for all you've done and all the energy you've invested in making the ISBA an excellent, progressive, highly responsive, all-inclusive, respectful & respected professional association during his tenure there.

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