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COA reverses 4 attempted robbery convictions

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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed four convictions of attempted robbery after finding the evidence didn't support a reasonable inference that the defendant intended to rob each of the alleged victims.

In Curtis Stokes v. State of Indiana, No. 49A04-0905-CR-276, Curtis Stokes appealed his convictions of six counts of attempted robbery and one count of robbery in connection with the robbery of people inside a recording studio in Indianapolis.

Stokes and five other men entered the occupied studio and split up into different areas of the studio. One of the robbers drew a gun and held it to Andrew Steele's face, saying "Get down. You know what this is." Two other robbers took $200 from Edriese Phillips, and Collin Moore was shot in the leg while trying to get down on the floor but wasn't robbed.

Stokes argued the evidence was insufficient to support his five attempted robbery convictions as Class B felonies, one conviction as a Class A felony, and his Class B felony robbery conviction. Stokes was an accomplice in the crimes at the studio, but the conduct of Stokes and his co-defendants doesn't support that they were involved in the attempted robbing of everyone there.

The Court of Appeals found sufficient evidence to support Stokes' convictions as an accomplice for the robbery of Phillips, and attempted robbery of Steele and Moore. But they didn't find he attempted to rob four other people at the studio for which he was charged and convicted. The trial court was persuaded by the argument that the command "Get down. You know what this is," was directed toward each of the victims listed in the charging information and implied they were all about to be robbed.

But there's not enough evidence to support Stokes' convictions of attempted robbery of those four men. The appellate court found the California Court of Appeals' opinion in People v. Bonner, 80 Cal. App. 4th 759 (2000), to be instructive. The defendant and his brother planned on robbing a hotel manager and assistant of money and knew the route they took together to deposit the hotel's money. But they were discovered hiding in the laundry room before they could commit the robbery. The California court held since the defendant had the intent to rob the hotel workers and took acts beyond mere preparation directed at robbing them, he could be convicted of two counts of attempted robbery.

But in the instant case, Stokes never admitted to any intent to rob nor did he identify anyone he was going to rob, wrote Judge Edward Najam. The studio robbers targeted specific people, so there's not enough evidence to show specific intent to rob everyone.

The comments made by the robbers to get down, without more, is too ambiguous to support a reasonable inference that Stokes intended to rob each of the alleged attempted robbery victims, wrote Judge Najam.

The Court of Appeals also upheld the denial of Stokes' motion for mistrial after learning some jurors saw documents that stated he was incarcerated pending trial. He had waived the issue, and failed to show he was placed in a position of grave peril as a result of the jurors' exposure to those documents.

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