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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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