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COA vacates conviction on double jeopardy grounds

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled that a man who helped participate in a robbery that left the victim blind must be cleared of a criminal confinement conviction because the same evidence may have been used to convict him on another charge.

In Carlton Wright v. State of Indiana, No. 10A01-1009-CR-517, Carlton Wright appealed his convictions of Class A felony robbery and Class D felony criminal confinement, and claimed his sentence is inappropriate. The court held that the aggregate sentence of 50 years – the maximum sentence for his robbery conviction – was not inappropriate, given Wright’s criminal background and events surrounding the crime that reflect poorly on his character.

On December 24, 2009, Reinaldo Santiago encountered Wright and Kianna Ball at a Clarksville hotel. Santiago agreed to give the two a ride. After stopping to buy alcohol and withdraw cash from an automatic teller machine, Santiago – who spoke little English – drove Wright and Ball to a friend’s house to find someone to serve as translator.

When Santiago parked his van at his friend’s house, Ball pulled out a gun and pointed it at Santiago’s head, and Wright grabbed him to prevent him from moving. Wright then got out of the passenger seat and walked around to the driver’s side. Ball shot Santiago in the head, and Wright pulled him from the van, took the driver’s seat and drove away. Witnesses obtained medical assistance for Santiago, who was permanently blinded due to his injuries.

Police apprehended Wright later, shooting him in the buttock as he attempted to flee. The state charged Wright with robbery, resisting law enforcement, and criminal confinement as a Class B felony. The jury found Wright guilty of robbery and resisting law enforcement as charged, but convicted him of criminal confinement as a Class D felony.

The appeals court cited the state’s closing remarks at trial as support for Wright’s argument that the jury could reasonably infer that the same force he used to confine Santiago could also be the same force used in committing the robbery. The appeals court therefore remanded to the trial court to vacate the conviction for criminal confinement, citing Indiana’s double jeopardy standards. Wright did not appeal his convictions on other charges, but argued his sentence was inappropriate, as he was an accomplice to the shooting.

Citing Merriweather v. State, 778 N.E.2d 449, 458-59 (Ind. Ct. App. 2002), the appeals court ruled that a defendant is criminally liable for the use of a weapon by an accomplice, even if the defendant was not armed. The court held that Wright made no effort to protest Ball shooting Santiago, and that he did not seek medical treatment for the victim, or cooperate with police.

Wright was initially sentenced to serve his conviction for criminal confinement concurrently with the robbery sentence, so the court’s reversal of the criminal confinement conviction does not affect Wright’s overall incarceration.

 

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