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Court upholds man’s conviction for confining wife’s sister

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Although a prosecutor made an inappropriate comment during a man’s trial for criminal confinement, that comment had little persuasive effect on the jury, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Friday. The judges affirmed Jonathan Stephens’ conviction of Class C felony criminal confinement.

Prosecutors charged Stephens following an incident involving his wife, Brittany, and her sister Hannah Dickerhoff. Brittany Stephens and Dickerhoff were at the YMCA when Jonathan Stephens showed up and began arguing with his wife. At one point, he dragged Brittany to his car, which led Dickerhoff to jump in, fearing for her sister. Jonathan Stephens refused to stop the car, but eventually he stopped and pushed Dickerhoff out, causing injury to her hand.

Jonathan Stephens faced charges involving his sister-in-law and his wife, but Brittany Stephens said during his trial that she entered his car voluntarily and did not ask to be let out. Jonathan Stephens was convicted only related to Dickerhoff. He received eight years on a criminal confinement conviction, one year on a battery conviction and eight years for being a habitual offender.

In Jonathan Stephens v. State of Indiana, 85A02-1306-CR-518, Stephens claimed that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to support his criminal confinement conviction, that he received ineffective assistance from his trial attorney, and the prosecutor committed misconduct during closing arguments.

“The evidence shows that Dickerhoff entered Stephens’s vehicle after witnessing him drag Brittany to his vehicle. Stephens left the YMCA and began driving around the Wabash area. Stephens ignored Dickerhoff’s repeated pleas to let her out of the car. Eventually, Stephens even drove to another city and did not stop to let Dickerhoff out of the vehicle. When Dickerhoff called 911, Stephens still did not stop the car to let her go. Instead, he later stopped, grabbed Dickerhoff’s phone, and removed its battery. In this case, there is ample evidence from which a jury could conclude that Stephen criminally confined Dickerhoff,” Judge Rudolph Pyle III wrote.

Jonathan Stephens failed to show any prejudice was caused by his attorney’s failure to object to the line of questioning regarding a no-contact order between Jonathan and Brittany Stephens. And the judges held that most of the prosecutor’s comments were not improper. There was one statement that implied that if the jury convicted Jonathan Stephens, it would be a community service. But because he didn’t object during trial, he had to prove fundamental error, which he did not. The totality of the circumstances showed the improper comments had little persuasive effect on the jury, Pyle wrote. The jury’s verdict is supported by the evidence.

The COA remanded with the trial court to correct the sentencing order, abstract of judgment and chronological case summary to reflect the eight-year habitual offender enhancement serves as an enhancement to the Class C felony criminal confinement conviction.
 

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