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Justices divided over man’s conviction of criminal trespass

June 29, 2012

The state failed to prove an essential element of criminal trespass, according to one Indiana justice, so he dissented from his colleagues’ decision to uphold a man’s conviction stemming from his refusal to leave his bank.

In Walter Lyles v. State of Indiana, 49S02-1201-CR-49, Walter Lyles appealed his conviction of Class A misdemeanor criminal trespass. He went to a branch of his bank to receive a free print out of his account, but the bank policy requires a $6 fee for a statement. He became “irate and disrespectful” and was asked to leave several times by bank employees. A police officer came when Lyles refused to leave and arrested him after asking him multiple times to leave.

The Court of Appeals reversed.

Lyles argued that there was insufficient evidence for the trier of fact to infer that he lacked a contractual interest in the real property of the bank. The term “contractual interest in the property” isn’t defined in the criminal trespass statute or anywhere else in Indiana Code.

“At trial, there was evidence that the defendant was neither an owner nor an employee of the bank as well as evidence that the bank manager had authority to ask customers to leave the bank premises. This evidence, taken together, refuted each of the most reasonably apparent sources from which a person in the defendant's circumstances might have derived a contractual interest in the bank's real property: as an owner, as an employee, and as an account holder. Thus, we hold that there was sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could infer that the defendant did not have a contractual interest in the bank's real property,” wrote Chief Justice Brent Dickson for the majority.

Justice Robert Rucker dissented, citing Court of Appeals caselaw that defines “contractual interest” in the criminal trespass statute as the right to be present on another person’s property, arising out of an agreement between at least two parties that creates an obligation to do or not to do a particular thing.

Based on existing precedent, Lyles had a contractual interest in the bank’s premises and his conviction for criminal trespass can’t stand. Evidence may have supported a disorderly conduct conviction, but the state did not charge him with that, Rucker wrote.
 

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