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Dissenting judge argues tenants can’t ask drunk, disorderly man outside door to leave

August 22, 2013

An argument that tenants of an apartment complex may not ask a drunk and threatening man to leave common areas convinced one judge, but the majority of an appeals panel found otherwise, warning that such a holding would “defy logic and lead to an absurd result.”

A divided Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed multiple convictions in Jeremiah Walls v. State of Indiana, 55A05-1211-CR-603, for which Walls was sentenced to three years in prison.

Walls, intoxicated, rambling and falling down, awoke residents of Countryside Apartments in Martinsville shortly after 5 a.m. on July 1, 2012. He began tapping on a resident’s door with his feet, which awakened the tenant who asked him to leave. Walls later knocked on the resident’s door and asked to spend the night. The resident refused and Walls began pounding on the door and yelling.

Walls later attempted to enter the apartment of another tenant awakened by the disturbance. He tried to kiss her hand and grabbed her neck, according to the record. The woman and her roommate managed to push Walls out and lock the door, after which Walls began banging on that door.

Police soon came and Walls was arrested; the intimidation charges came from his threat to kill an officer and the officer’s father.

A Morgan Superior jury convicted Walls of two counts of Class D felony intimidation and misdemeanor counts of resisting law enforcement, criminal trespass, two counts of battery and disorderly conduct. A divided appeals panel affirmed the conviction and sentence.

Dissenting Judge Patricia Riley said she would affirm all of the convictions against Walls except for criminal trespass. Citing Aberdeen Apartments v. Cary Campbell Realty Alliance, Inc. 820 N.E.2d 158, 164 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010), Riley wrote, “Our court has already established case law on this issue, and though it may seem ‘absurd’, this court has strictly interpreted the criminal trespass statute which requires that entry on property be denied by either the owner or its agent.

“Pursuant to Aberdeen,” Riley wrote, “tenants of Countryview Apartments … only had exclusive possession of the apartments they leased and not of the common areas. They could therefore not ask Walls to leave the common areas of the apartment.”

“We need not resolve the precise nature of tenants’ rights to or status when in the common areas of an apartment complex in this case,” Judge Elaine Brown wrote. “We need address only whether (the tenants) had a sufficient interest in their leased apartment units to support their requests for Walls to leave the areas immediately outside their doors.”

“Walls was not merely present in the common areas but also was positioned immediately outside the doors giving access to the leased apartment units, persistently banging on the doors to the units, and in (the roommates’) case, had his foot through the threshold of the door,” the majority held.

“Under the circumstances of this case, the tenants, while not in exclusive control of the common areas, had a sufficient possessory interest in, at a minimum, their apartment doors, the threshold of their apartments, and the immediate adjacent areas by which they accessed their leased apartment units, to request that a person leave that specific area and stop persistently banging on their doors. A rigid rule, applied without exception, that a tenant does not have a sufficient possessory interest in such property would defy logic and lead to an absurd result,” Brown wrote.


 

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