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COA addresses evidence needed for animal fighting conviction

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For only the second time, the Indiana Court of Appeals has addressed the issue of evidence used to obtain a conviction under I.C. 35-46-3-8, which outlaws buying or owning an animal for an animal fighting contest.

In Rahsaan A. Johnson v. State of Indiana, 18A02-1304-CR-343, Rahsaan Johnson appealed convictions of 14 counts of Class D felony possession of animals for fighting contests.  Muncie Animal Shelter officials went to an abandoned trailer on reports of dogs barking from inside. The shelter’s superintendent called police after observing animals chained up in deplorable conditions. After obtaining a warrant, police discovered a total of 25 animals on the property, often stacked in dog cages crammed inside the mobile home. The animals had injuries consistent with dog fighting, and officers found paraphernalia often used in dog fighting training, such as weighted collars, medicine and treadmills.

Of the 25 dogs, 13 were adopted out and 12 were euthanized for either medical or temperament reasons.

Johnson faced 26 charges as a result of the search, but was convicted of the 14 Class D felonies and seven Class A misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty. He received an aggregate sentence of four years in the Department of Correction.

He challenged the evidence used to convict him and argued his convictions violated double jeopardy.

The judges noted caselaw is scant in interpreting I.C. 35-46-3-8, so they relied on Clemons v. State, 987 N.E.2d 92, 95 (Ind. Ct. App. 2013), the only appellate decision to date concerning the sufficiency of evidence used to convict someone under this statute. Clemons was convicted of possessing “battle cocks” for fighting purposes.

“Contrary to Johnson’s argument that the dogs’ fighting history cannot be indicative of their future purpose, the Clemons court found the evidence that the roosters had been used to fight in the past, combined with the fighting paraphernalia, was sufficient to uphold Clemons’ conviction. We find the same rationale applies in Johnson’s case,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote.

Johnson claimed that he was housing the animals and training them to enter weight-pulling competitions, which are legal. He also argued some of the animals were kept solely for breeding purposes or companionship.

“We do not dispute Johnson’s assertion that ‘millions of Hoosiers own animals, and the vast majority of them would never dream of using them in an animal fighting contest,’” Judge Patricia Riley wrote. “It is clear from the evidence, however, that Johnson is not included among this majority of Hoosiers. Accordingly, we find that there was sufficient evidence for the jury to determine that Johnson possessed these fourteen pit bulls for the purpose of animal fighting. Fortunately for Johnson, the Indiana Department of Correction will not subject him to the inhumane conditions that he forced upon those twenty-five dogs.”

The judges also found his convictions do not violate the double jeopardy clause of the Indiana Constitution.
 

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  1. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  2. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  3. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

  4. The sad thing is that no fish were thrown overboard The "greenhorn" who had never fished before those 5 days was interrogated for over 4 hours by 5 officers until his statement was illicited, "I don't want to go to prison....." The truth is that these fish were measured frozen off shore and thawed on shore. The FWC (state) officer did not know fish shrink, so the only reason that these fish could be bigger was a swap. There is no difference between a 19 1/2 fish or 19 3/4 fish, short fish is short fish, the ticket was written. In addition the FWC officer testified at trial, he does not measure fish in accordance with federal law. There was a document prepared by the FWC expert that said yes, fish shrink and if these had been measured correctly they averaged over 20 inches (offshore frozen). This was a smoke and mirror prosecution.

  5. I love this, Dave! Many congrats to you! We've come a long way from studying for the bar together! :)

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