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COA reverses assisting criminal conviction

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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a woman's conviction of misdemeanor assisting a criminal Jan. 2 because the state failed to define "fugitive from justice" and prove the criminal was charged with an offense in another state and fled to Indiana.

In Darcy Lafferty v. State of Indiana, No. 65A01-0806-CR-314, the state charged Darcy Lafferty with assisting a criminal under Indiana Code Section 35-44-3-2 after she was seen with John Murphy, who was wanted by police, and told them he wasn't in her home when he actually was. Lafferty's defense counsel wanted the trial court to offer a proposed final instruction that defined a fugitive from justice as someone who is charged with criminal activity in one state and flees to another state. Her counsel relied on Frost v. State, 527 N.E.2d 228 (Ind. Ct. App. 1988), to enter the instruction. The trial court refused the proposed instruction.

In Frost, and in Myers v. State, 765 N.E.2d 663, 667 (Ind. Ct. App. 2002), the court held a fugitive from justice was someone charged with criminal activity in one state and flees from that jurisdiction to another.

The state failed to present any evidence that Murphy had fled from one state to another. The state argued that the court should employ a broader definition of "fugitive from justice" to refer to anyone who flees from officers. While the appellate court agrees that I. C. Section 35-44-3-2 should apply to any defendant who harbors a criminal, regardless of where the crime was committed, the court doesn't believe it should overrule the holdings in Frost and Myers.

The state failed to use the alternative language in the statute that says the statute also applies to someone who assists another person "who has committed a crime, or is a fugitive from justice ...," wrote Senior Judge William I. Garrard. Had the state elected to charge Lafferty as having harbored John Murphy, "a person who has committed a crime" instead of "a fugitive from justice," then the proof at trial would have been adequate, the judge wrote. Instead, it only alleged Murphy was a fugitive from justice, and the state failed to prove he was a fugitive from justice under Frost. The Court of Appeals also noted that its research failed to find any Indiana case questioning or challenging the Frost definition.

The appellate court reversed Lafferty's conviction and ordered her discharged.

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