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COA finds church member’s lack of brotherly love not sufficient to uphold conviction

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A criminal conviction that resulted from church member’s demand for quiet during a worship service has been overturned by the Indiana Court of Appeals on the grounds that the evidence was insufficient to sustain the conviction.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s conviction of Paul R. Semenick for criminal trespass, as a Class A misdemeanor. Semenick, a long-time member of Lakeview Christian Church, was arrested and charged with criminal trespass and disorderly conduct following a scuffle at a Sunday worship service.

The incident began when Semenick told a volunteer greeter and other church members they were speaking too loudly. When one of the congregants placed his hand on Semenick’s shoulder to apologize, Semenick told him to “get your hand off me.” The volunteer greeter then brought into the sanctuary an off-duty police officer, Sgt. John Dierdorf, who patrols the church’s parking lot during services.

Although Semenick was seated and participating in the worship, the police sergeant asked him to leave. Semenick exited into the main hallway but did not leave the building and “kept on ranting,” referring to the police officer as a “rent-a-cop,” until he was arrested.

At the conclusion of the trial, Semenick was acquitted of disorderly conduct but convicted of criminal trespass. The trial court sentenced him to 365 days of imprisonment, suspending 363 days and ordering him to stay away from Lakeview.

Semenick appealed.

In reversing the trial court’s ruling in Paul R. Semenick v. State of Indiana, 49A02-111-CR-1035, the Court of Appeals ruled the state failed in its burden to prove material elements of criminal trespass because it did not provide evidence that disavowed Semenick’s contractual interest in being on the property and it did not delineate Dierdorf’s authority.  

Judge Paul Mathias dissented, concluding the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to support the jury’s conviction.

“Under the applicable standard of review for claims challenging the sufficiency of the evidence supporting a jury verdict, I conclude that the state presented sufficient evidence that Sgt. Dierdorf was an agent of the Church and that Mr. Semenick had no contractual interest in Church premises,” Mathias wrote. “And even if Mr. Semenick had some limited right to be on the Church premises, I believe his disruptive behavior terminated that limited right.”
 

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  1. Hysteria? Really Ben? Tell the young lady reported on in the link below that worrying about the sexualizing of our children is mere hysteria. Such thinking is common in the Royal Order of Jesters and other running sex vacays in Thailand or Brazil ... like Indy's Jared Fogle. Those tempted to call such concerns mere histronics need to think on this: http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/a-12-year-old-girl-live-streamed-her-suicide-it-took-two-weeks-for-facebook-to-take-the-video-down/ar-AAlT8ka?li=AA4ZnC&ocid=spartanntp

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  3. This is happening so much. Even in 2016.2017. I hope the father sue for civil rights violation. I hope he sue as more are doing and even without a lawyer as pro-se, he got a good one here. God bless him.

  4. JLAP and other courtiers ... Those running court systems, have most substance abuse issues. Probably self medicating to cover conscience issues arising out of acts furthering govt corruption

  5. I whole-heartedly agree with Doug Church's comment, above. Indiana lawyers were especially fortunate to benefit from Tom Pyrz' leadership and foresight at a time when there has been unprecedented change in the legal profession. Consider how dramatically computer technology and its role in the practice of law have changed over the last 25 years. The impact of the great recession of 2008 dramatically changed the composition and structure of law firms across the country. Economic pressures altered what had long been a routine, robust annual recruitment process for law students and recent law school graduates. That has, in turn, impacted law school enrollment across the country, placing upward pressure on law school tuition. The internet continues to drive significant changes in the provision of legal services in both public and private sectors. The ISBA has worked to make quality legal representation accessible and affordable for all who need it and to raise general public understanding of Indiana laws and procedures. How difficult it would have been to tackle each of these issues without Tom's leadership. Tom has set the tone for positive change at the ISBA to meet the evolving practice needs of lawyers of all backgrounds and ages. He has led the organization with vision, patience, flexibility, commitment, thoughtfulness & even humor. He will, indeed, be a tough act to follow. Thank you, Tom, for all you've done and all the energy you've invested in making the ISBA an excellent, progressive, highly responsive, all-inclusive, respectful & respected professional association during his tenure there.

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