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Location, location, location determines who has burden of proof

October 18, 2013

Looking at the distance in the state statute between the description of the offense and a statutory exception, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled the defendant had the burden of proof regarding a victim’s age.

Audie Wilson was convicted of sexual misconduct with a minor as a Class B felony; attempted sexual misconduct with a minor as a Class B felony; and sexual misconduct with a minor as a Class C felony.

During the trial, he did not object when the judge instructed the jury that the defendant had to prove by a preponderance of evidence that he reasonably believed the juvenile victim, C.C., was at least 16 years old.

On appeal, Wilson argued the trial court made a fundamental error by improperly giving him the burden of proving why he thought the victim was 16 years old.

Previously, in Moon v. State, 823 N.E.2d 715 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005), the Court of Appeals held the lower court made no error in assigning the defendant the responsibility of what he reasonably believed the victim’s age to be.

Wilson contended the Moon court erred. He asserted the “reasonable belief” defense negates a material element of the crime – the defendant’s knowledge of the victim’s age. Therefore, the defendant’s knowledge of the victim’s age must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt by the state.

The COA disagreed in Audie Wilson v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1210-CR-846.
 
The Court of Appeals pointed to the sexual misconduct statute and location of the exception in relation to the location of the definition of the principal offense. There, the exception was contained in a subsequent clause so, according to the COA, the defendant must raise an affirmative defense and must bear the burden of proof.

In a footnote, the court pointed out that no one challenged the language used in this particular jury instruction.

“We believe the instruction as given was erroneous,” Judge L. Mark Bailey wrote. “However, any error in this instance inured to Wilson’s benefit.”
 

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