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COA affirms trial court in felony neglect case

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has affirmed a conviction of Class A felony neglect, holding the appellant was unable to prove that he should have been charged with a lesser offense.

In David L. Johnson, Jr. v. State of Indiana, No. 82A01-1103-CR-130, David Johnson claimed the trial court abused its discretion when it denied his request for jury instructions on lesser-included offenses. He also claimed that the court erred in admitting statements he made to a social worker and that he was a victim of prosecutorial vindictiveness.

A.J. was born to Johnson and Lori Record in September 2008. In January 2009, Johnson attended a voluntary counseling session with a social worker, whom he told he was concerned that he might become angry and hurt A.J. Personnel noticed a bruise on A.J.’s cheek and called child protective services to investigate, and a case manager subsequently ordered A.J. to be seen by a doctor and to have X-rays taken. An initial review of the X-rays showed no injuries.

On Feb. 9, 2009, A.J. died. A coroner found evidence of multiple injuries, and upon reexamining A.J.’s initial X-rays, a radiologist saw a fracture in A.J.’s clavicle. On April 7, the state charged Johnson with Class A felony neglect of a dependent. In 2010, Johnson agreed to plead guilty to a Class B felony neglect charge, but the trial court rejected that plea.  

The COA held that in order for Johnson to prove that he should have been charged with a lesser offense, he would need to prove a serious evidentiary dispute on the element of serious bodily injury. The appeals court affirmed the trial court’s decision to refuse Johnson’s proffered instructions on the lesser-included Class C and Class D felony offenses.

The appeals court also held that the court did not err in admitting a statement from the social worker whom Johnson met with prior to A.J.’s death, citing Indiana Evidence Rules 401 and 402.

Finally, the COA rejected Johnson’s assertion that he was a victim of prosecutorial vindictiveness, stating that precedent dictates actual vindictiveness occurs when a prosecutor’s charging decision was motivated by a desire to punish the defendant for something the law plainly allowed him to do.

 

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