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Court affirms conviction, sentence despite error

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Even though a jury instruction given during a forgery trial misstated the law, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed a defendant's conviction and sentencing after finding other statements and instructions prevented any fundamental error in the case.

In Gloria Benefield v. State of Indiana, No. 41A01-0806-CR-272, Gloria Benefield appealed her conviction of and sentence for Class C felony forgery for providing a falsified Qualified Medication Aide certification during a job interview. During her trial, the trial court instructed the jury on the definition of "defraud," to which Benefield unsuccessfully objected because it was apparently drawn from Black's Law Dictionary.

She was sentenced to eight years incarceration for forgery, which was enhanced by six years for being a habitual offender.

Benefield waived her appeal of the issue of the jury instruction for review because she advanced a different reason on appeal than what she objected to at trial. She claimed on appeal that the instruction amounted to a fundamental error so it should be reviewed.

The original jury instruction defined "defraud" as to make a misrepresentation of an existing material fact, knowing it to be false, or making it recklessly without regard to whether it is true or false. The Indiana Supreme Court has held that an intent to defraud involves an intent to deceive, and the jury instruction suggesting that a person making a representation with reckless disregard for its truth may have the intent to deceive is not a proper statement of the law, wrote Judge Cale Bradford.

Even though the instruction misstated the law, it's not enough to reverse Benefield's conviction. The jury was properly informed in several instances that Benefield must have had the "intent to defraud" in order to be guilty of forgery.

"In summary, even though the jury was misinformed once regarding the proper mens rea for forgery, it was properly informed four times, including three times by the trial court. This repetition of the proper mens rea, especially because it came mostly from the trial court, very likely would have cured the error by itself," wrote Judge Bradford.

In addition, the jury was instructed to consider all the instructions as a whole and not to single out any point or instruction. As a result, there was no fundamental error in this case.

The appellate court also affirmed the admittance of testimony regarding documents that weren't admitted into trial and Benefield's sentence.

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  1. Future generations will be amazed that we prosecuted people for possessing a harmless plant. The New York Times came out in favor of legalization in Saturday's edition of the newspaper.

  2. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

  3. I pd for a bankruptcy years ago with Mr Stiles and just this week received a garnishment from my pay! He never filed it even though he told me he would! Don't let this guy practice law ever again!!!

  4. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  5. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

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