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COA reaffirms separate convictions for check theft not warranted

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The Indiana Court of Appeals granted the state’s petition for rehearing in a case in which the defendant stole checks from a man’s mailbox, but affirmed its original decision that the taking of the checks and what the defendant did with them constituted a single continuing act of theft.

In April,  the COA reversed several of Sterlen Shane Keller’s theft convictions based on the single larceny rule. He had in his possession a Social Security check and Edward Jones checks that belonged to Robert Collier. He took the checks from Collier’s mailbox on one occasion.

The state argued that Keller made an independent decision to exert control over the three Edward Jones checks by cashing them, which is separate from his taking of the Social Security check from the mailbox.

“Contrary to the State’s assertion, we cannot disregard Keller’s act of taking the checks from the mailbox because that is the point at which Keller began knowingly or intentionally exerting unauthorized control over them with the intent to deprive Collier of their value or use,” Judge Michael Barnes wrote in Sterlen Shane Keller v. State of Indiana, 59A01-1206-CR-271.

“Regardless of what Keller did with the checks after he took them — whether he put them in his garage or cashed them — he committed the offense when he took the checks from Collier’s mailbox and from that point on he committed a single continuing act of theft.”

The judges also weren’t persuaded by the state’s argument that its earlier holding disserves the purpose of the single larceny rule: to punish a single criminal design only once.

“To the extent that Keller’s subsequent decision to cash some of the checks he had taken evidenced an additional criminal design, the State could have charged him with the theft of those funds (as opposed to theft of the checks), forgery, or any other applicable offense,” Barnes wrote. “The State’s decision not to charge Keller for the act of cashing the checks further underscores the importance of the charging documents and its contents.”

 

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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