ILNews

COA named as defendant in federal lawsuit

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2007
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The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed a conviction for Class C felony nonsupport of a dependant, despite the court being named as a defendant in a federal suit filed by the disgruntled appellant-defendant.

In Christopher J. Stephens v. State of Indiana, 20A05-0702-CR-95, Stephens appealed his felony conviction of nonsupport of his child, as well as issues that should have been challenged during his child support proceedings or trial on the matter.

Unhappy with the results of his child support order and conviction, Stephens and his father, Michael Jack Stephens, filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District court, Southern District of Indiana, against "all members" of the Indiana Court of Appeals, Michael Jack and Christopher Joe Stephens, et al. v. Elkhart County Superior Court No. 6, et al. 1:07-CV-0671-LJM-TAB.

In a footnote, Judge Michael Barnes references the lawsuit, "Because the lawsuit names 'all members,' it would be impossible to resolve this present appeal if all the judges of this court recused themselves. Therefore, the 'rule of necessity' mandates that we address this appeal because there is no one else to do it."

In the Court of Appeals opinion, Stephens brought up four issues for appeal: whether the trial court properly prohibited him from collaterally attacking the child support order entered by another court in a prior proceeding; whether the trial court properly denied his Baston challenge; whether the trial court properly rejected his affirmative defense of inability to pay; and whether there was sufficient evidence to enhance his conviction to a Class C felony of nonsupport.

Stephens had a child with Jessica Sluss and was originally order to pay her $64 a week in child support. Sluss petitioned for a modification of the order, which Stephens attended with no attorney, did not present documents showing his weekly or yearly earnings, and brought to court paperwork that reflected he earned $1,375.77 a week as a truck driver. Stephens claimed more than $850 came out of that total to cover fuel costs. The trial court increased his weekly support payments to $263.26 based on the $1,375.77. The trial court told Stephens in September 2004 that until he presented documentation to show his weekly gross income, that amount would stand.

Stephens never petitioned to modify the order and never made any payments to Sluss. He did not show up for court, was arrested in Georgia, and in January 2006 was charged with Class D felony nonsupport between July and November 2005 and Class C felony for nonsupport in excess of $15,000.

A jury found Stephens guilty of the Class D felony charge, and the trial court heard the enhancement portion of the trial and found him guilty of the Class C felony.

During the trial, Stephens was collaterally estopped from arguing the validity of the child support order increasing his weekly payments. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in collaterally estopping Stephens because child support modification orders must be challenged during proceedings or by direct appeal from the proceedings and not relitigated at the criminal court, wrote Judge Barnes.

The trial court was also not erroneous in overruling Stephen's objection to dismissing the only potential African-American juror. The trial court record shows the juror was dismissed because she said she found it difficult to accept how someone who was in prison and unable to pay child support could be convicted, not because of her race or gender.

The trial court correctly established that Stephens did not adequately prove his inability to pay the modified child support amount. The jury and trial court considered all evidence, including Stephens' and his father's testimony. The Court of Appeals also affirmed his conviction of the Class D felony based on state statute and evidence of arrearage presented during the bench trial, including testimony from the Elkhart Prosecutor's Office Child Support Division.

In May 2007, Stephens and his father filed the federal lawsuit naming several defendants, including the entire Court of Appeals, attorney general, Elkhart County Sheriff, and Elkhart County judges. In the brief, Stephens and his father contend the "judges, lawyers, court officers, CASA, and the like" did not follow the law and had "the Indiana Code and Child Support Guidelines been followed instead of being rewritten by the judge, we would NOT have this action to perform."
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  1. I expressed my thought in the title, long as it was. I am shocked that there is ever immunity from accountability for ANY Government agency. That appears to violate every principle in the US Constitution, which exists to limit Government power and to ensure Government accountability. I don't know how many cases of legitimate child abuse exist, but in the few cases in which I knew the people involved, in every example an anonymous caller used DCS as their personal weapon to strike at innocent people over trivial disagreements that had no connection with any facts. Given that the system is vulnerable to abuse, and given the extreme harm any action by DCS causes to families, I would assume any degree of failure to comply with the smallest infraction of personal rights would result in mandatory review. Even one day of parent-child separation in the absence of reasonable cause for a felony arrest should result in severe penalties to those involved in the action. It appears to me, that like all bureaucracies, DCS is prone to interpret every case as legitimate. This is not an accusation against DCS. It is a statement about the nature of bureaucracies, and the need for ADDED scrutiny of all bureaucratic actions. Frankly, I question the constitutionality of bureaucracies in general, because their power is delegated, and therefore unaccountable. No Government action can be unaccountable if we want to avoid its eventual degeneration into irrelevance and lawlessness, and the law of the jungle. Our Constitution is the source of all Government power, and it is the contract that legitimizes all Government power. To the extent that its various protections against intrusion are set aside, so is the power afforded by that contract. Eventually overstepping the limits of power eliminates that power, as a law of nature. Even total tyranny eventually crumbles to nothing.

  2. Being dedicated to a genre keeps it alive until the masses catch up to the "trend." Kent and Bill are keepin' it LIVE!! Thank you gentlemen..you know your JAZZ.

  3. Hemp has very little THC which is needed to kill cancer cells! Growing cannabis plants for THC inside a hemp field will not work...where is the fear? From not really knowing about Cannabis and Hemp or just not listening to the people teaching you through testimonies and packets of info over the last few years! Wake up Hoosier law makers!

  4. If our State Government would sue for their rights to grow HEMP like Kentucky did we would not have these issues. AND for your INFORMATION many medical items are also made from HEMP. FOOD, FUEL,FIBER,TEXTILES and MEDICINE are all uses for this plant. South Bend was built on Hemp. Our states antiquated fear of cannabis is embarrassing on the world stage. We really need to lead the way rather than follow. Some day.. we will have freedom in Indiana. And I for one will continue to educate the good folks of this state to the beauty and wonder of this magnificent plant.

  5. Put aside all the marijuana concerns, we are talking about food and fiber uses here. The federal impediments to hemp cultivation are totally ridiculous. Preposterous. Biggest hemp cultivators are China and Europe. We get most of ours from Canada. Hemp is as versatile as any crop ever including corn and soy. It's good the governor laid the way for this, regrettable the buffoons in DC stand in the way. A statutory relic of the failed "war on drugs"

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