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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. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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