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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. I will be filing a lawsuit in Tippecanoe County for so many violations in a case we became involved in, including failure to contact through mail, Violation of 4th Amendment rights, Violation of Civil Rights, and so on. Even the Indiana Ombudsmen Bureau found violations and I have now received the report and they are demanding further training in Tippecanoe County. I am going to make sure they follow through!!!

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  3. I thought the purpose of the criminal justice center was to consolidate all the criminal services and get them out of downtown to clean up the place. Why in the HELL are the civil courts moving? What a burden to all the downtown law firms. Now we all get to work downtown, but then have to get in a car and COMMUTE to court? Who approved this idiocy?

  4. I drive through the neighborhood whenever I go to the City-County Building or the Federal Courthouse. The surrounding streets are all two way with only two lanes of traffic, and traffic is very slow during rush hour. I hope that enough money has been allocated to allow for improvement of the surrounding streets.

  5. I have had an ongoing custody case for 6 yrs. I should have been the sole legal custodial parent but was a victim of a vindictive ex and the system biasedly supported him. He is an alcoholic and doesn't even have a license for two yrs now after his 2nd DUI. Fast frwd 6 yrs later my kids are suffering poor nutritional health, psychological issues, failing in school, have NO MD and the GAL could care less, DCS doesn't care. The child isn't getting his ADHD med he needs and will not succeed in life living this way. NO one will HELP our family.I tried for over 6 yrs. The judge called me an idiot for not knowing how to enter evidence and the last hearing was 8 mths ago. That in itself is unjust! The kids want to be with their Mother! They are being alienated from her and fed lies by their Father! I was hit in a car accident 3 yrs ago and am declared handicapped myself. Poor poor way to treat the indigent in Indiana!

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