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COA rules on man's theft conviction for third time

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Following an order from the Indiana Supreme Court that the lower appellate court more fully address the Proportionality Clause of the Indiana Constitution, the Indiana Court of Appeals has again upheld a man’s felony theft conviction.

The judges concluded that the classification of theft as a Class D felony doesn’t violate the Proportionality Clause under Article I, Section 16 of the state constitution. This is the third time the appellate court has addressed Marvin Ervin’s conviction, issuing its first not-for-publication decision in September 2010, and its second unpublished memorandum decision in April 2011 following remand from the Indiana Supreme Court.

On July 7, the justices again ordered the COA to take another look at Ervin’s argument involving the Proportionality Clause. Ervin was arrested and charged with Class D felony theft for taking a bike from an apartment building and selling it at a pawn shop. He offered a proposed jury instruction on Class A misdemeanor conversion, which was overruled by the trial court.

In Thursday’s opinion in Marvin Ervin v. State of Indiana (NFP), Nos. 49A05-1107-CR-347; 49A02-1002-CR-123, the judges noted that the decision set forth the facts and disposition of the remaining issues as were reported in its previous NFP decisions with minimal modifications. They affirmed the admission of pawn shop documents into evidence pursuant to the business record exception of the hearsay rules.

They also found the trial court didn’t abuse its discretion by refusing to instruct the jury on conversion in light of Morris v. State, 921 N.E.2d 40 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010), in which the appellate court held that a criminal conversion instruction as a lesser-included offense of felony theft was warranted by the evidence. In the instant case, the judges found no evidentiary dispute about Ervin’s intent to deprive someone of any part of the property’s value or use, as is required to convict someone of Class D felony theft. The intent element is not required to convict someone of Class A misdemeanor conversion.

The COA then addressed Ervin’s argument that the classification for Class D felony theft violates the Proportionality Clause because that offense is “one and the same” as criminal conversion, a Class A misdemeanor. The judges found Ervin’s reliance on Morris for the proposition that the two offenses are one and the same to be unpersuasive. They noted that the Indiana General Assembly has not merged the two offenses into one or amended the statutes to change the elements of the offenses, wrote Judge John Baker.

“In our view, we find nothing ‘incongruous or unfair’ about the legislature’s decision to punish the two crimes differently,” he wrote.

They noted that time and again, the appellate court has found that an evidentiary distinction exists between the two offenses in practical application. The penalty for Class D felony theft is not unconstitutionally disproportionate to that of Class A misdemeanor conversion, he wrote.

Ervin’s attorney, Joel Schumm, told Indiana Lawyer that he was surprised the decision was classified as an NFP because it is an issue of first impression. He said he’s asked that it be published. He believes the opinion conflicts with the language in Morris and other cases. He said the Model Penal Code and most states distinguish misdemeanors and felonies based on the value of property taken. He’s going to seek transfer to the Supreme Court.
 

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  1. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  2. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  3. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

  4. "...not those committed in the heat of an argument." If I ever see a man physically abusing a woman or a child and I'm close enough to intercede I will not ask him why he is abusing her/him. I will give him a split second to cease his attack and put his hands in the air while I call the police. If he continues, I will still call the police but to report, "Man down with a gunshot wound,"instead.

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