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COA: Judge erred in giving jury instruction

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A Jefferson Superior judge erred in giving a jury an instruction on a lesser included offense of domestic battery because there wasn’t a serious evidentiary dispute about whether the battery was committed in the presence of children, the Indiana Court of Appeals held Thursday.

George Michael True appealed his conviction of Class A misdemeanor domestic battery. He was charged with, among other things, Class D felony domestic battery for going to his ex-wife’s apartment and attacking her while his children and another minor relative were staying there. He claimed he couldn’t have been the one to attack her because he was at church and that his ex-wife had the children lie about hearing him and seeing him attack her to influence an ongoing custody battle between the two.  

At the state’s request and over True’s objection, the trial court instructed the jury that it could convict True of Class A misdemeanor domestic battery, which doesn’t require the battery to occur in the presence of a child, as a lesser included offense of the Class D felony domestic battery. The jury convicted him of Class A misdemeanor domestic battery.

In Watts v. State, 885 N.E.2d 1228, 1232-33 (Ind. 2008), the Indiana Supreme Court held that it is reversible error for a trial court to give a lesser included offense instruction at the request of the state in the absence of a serious evidentiary dispute distinguishing the lesser offense from the greater. The COA found that the Watts court’s observations apply in True’s case – the propriety of a defendant’s “all-or-nothing” defense strategy and how such a defense can be improperly undermined by the state obtaining a lesser included offense instruction where the evidence doesn’t warrant it. The Supreme Court also has expressed concern over the possibility of a jury entering a “compromise” verdict.

True pursued an “all-or-nothing” defense strategy, noting conflicting evidence whether he was even at his ex-wife’s apartment the morning she was battered. The evidence was conflicting only on whether True committed any battery at all, not on whether the crime was committed in the presence of children as defined in the domestic battery statute, wrote Judge Michael Barnes in George Michael True v. State of Indiana, No. 39A04-1102-CR-37.

“… we conclude there clearly was no serious evidentiary dispute about whether the battery was committed in the presence of children. Either there was a domestic battery committed in the presence of children, or there was no battery at all. Instructing the jury that it could convict True of Class A misdemeanor domestic battery instead of Class D felony domestic battery improperly invited the jury to reach a ‘compromise’ verdict,” he wrote.

The COA reversed True’s conviction and remanded for further proceedings.
 

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  1. If real money was spent on this study, what a shame. And if some air-head professor tries to use this to advance a career, pity the poor student. I am approaching a time that i (and others around me) should be vigilant. I don't think I'm anywhere near there yet, but seeing the subject I was looking forward to something I might use to look for some benchmarks. When finally finding my way to the hidden questionnaire all I could say to myself was...what a joke. Those are open and obvious signs of any impaired lawyer (or non-lawyer, for that matter), And if one needs a checklist to discern those tell-tale signs of impairment at any age, one shouldn't be practicing law. Another reason I don't regret dropping my ABA membership some number of years ago.

  2. The case should have been spiked. Give the kid a break. He can serve and maybe die for Uncle Sam and can't have a drink? Wow. And they won't even let him defend himself. What a gross lack of prosecutorial oversight and judgment. WOW

  3. I work with some older lawyers in the 70s, 80s, and they are sharp as tacks compared to the foggy minded, undisciplined, inexperienced, listless & aimless "youths" being churned out by the diploma mill law schools by the tens of thousands. A client is generally lucky to land a lawyer who has decided to stay in practice a long time. Young people shouldn't kid themselves. Experience is golden especially in something like law. When you start out as a new lawyer you are about as powerful as a babe in the cradle. Whereas the silver halo of age usually crowns someone who can strike like thunder.

  4. YES I WENT THROUGH THIS BEFORE IN A DIFFERENT SITUATION WITH MY YOUNGEST SON PEOPLE NEED TO LEAVE US ALONE WITH DCS IF WE ARE NOT HURTING OR NEGLECT OUR CHILDREN WHY ARE THEY EVEN CALLED OUT AND THE PEOPLE MAKING FALSE REPORTS NEED TO GO TO JAIL AND HAVE A CLASS D FELONY ON THERE RECORD TO SEE HOW IT FEELS. I WENT THREW ALOT WHEN HE WAS TAKEN WHAT ELSE DOES THESE SCHOOL WANT ME TO SERVE 25 YEARS TO LIFE ON LIES THERE TELLING OR EVEN LE SAME THING LIED TO THE COUNTY PROSECUTOR JUST SO I WOULD GET ARRESTED AND GET TIME HE THOUGHT AND IT TURNED OUT I DID WHAT I HAD TO DO NOT PROUD OF WHAT HAPPEN AND SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SEEKING MEDICAL ATTENTION FOR MY CHILD I AM DISABLED AND SICK OF GETTING TREATED BADLY HOW WOULD THEY LIKE IT IF I CALLED APS ON THEM FOR A CHANGE THEN THEY CAN COME AND ARREST THEM RIGHT OUT OF THE SCHOOL. NOW WE ARE HOMELESS AND THE CHILDREN ARE STAYING WITH A RELATIVE AND GUARDIAN AND THE SCHOOL WON'T LET THEM GO TO SCHOOL THERE BUT WANT THEM TO GO TO SCHOOL WHERE BULLYING IS ALLOWED REAL SMART THINKING ON A SCHOOL STAFF.

  5. Family court judges never fail to surprise me with their irrational thinking. First of all any man who abuses his wife is not fit to be a parent. A man who can't control his anger should not be allowed around his child unsupervised period. Just because he's never been convicted of abusing his child doesn't mean he won't and maybe he hasn't but a man that has such poor judgement and control is not fit to parent without oversight - only a moron would think otherwise. Secondly, why should the mother have to pay? He's the one who made the poor decisions to abuse and he should be the one to pay the price - monetarily and otherwise. Yes it's sad that the little girl may be deprived of her father, but really what kind of father is he - the one that abuses her mother the one that can't even step up and do what's necessary on his own instead the abused mother is to pay for him???? What is this Judge thinking? Another example of how this world rewards bad behavior and punishes those who do right. Way to go Judge - NOT.

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