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Court affirms student's convictions

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After examining the few Indiana decisions on tumultuous conduct in the context of sufficiency of evidence to support a disorderly conduct conviction, the Indiana Supreme Court affirmed a high school student's conviction for behavior involving the dean of students. The high court also affirmed the student's battery conviction against the assistant principal.

In Christopher Bailey v. State of Indiana, No. 49S02-0812-CR-630, student Christopher Bailey appealed his battery and disorderly conduct convictions stemming from an incident at his high school, claiming insufficient evidence. The Court of Appeals agreed with Bailey and reversed his convictions, but the Supreme Court found sufficient evidence to support both convictions.

Assistant Principal Sarah Brewer told Bailey to pull up his pants during a morning breakfast service at the school; he refused and was upset. Brewer extended her arm to prevent Bailey from walking away and Bailey pushed through her arm with his body while keeping his hands at his side. Dean of Students Brian Knight saw this and came to confront Bailey about the situation. Bailey threw down his drink and coat, stepped toward Knight, and began yelling obscenities at him. The township school officer responded and Bailey backed away and left the cafeteria once he saw the officer. He was then arrested and convicted of Class B misdemeanor battery for his conduct with Brewer and Class B misdemeanor disorderly conduct because of the incident with the dean.

Although Bailey contended he didn't knowingly touch Brewer, in his testimony he conceded that although he didn't touch her with his hands, he may have touched her with another part of his body, wrote Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard. He also admitted to being angry during the incident. The state proved a knowing touching in a rude, insolent, or angry manner, the justice wrote.

The high court didn't have much precedent when it came to Bailey's conviction of disorderly conduct, in which the state had to prove he recklessly, knowingly, or intentionally engaged in fighting or in tumultuous conduct. Bailey argued his actions with the dean didn't rise to the statutory definition of tumultuous conduct. The justices turned to Whitley v. State, 553 N.E.2d 511 (Ind. Ct. App. 1990), Gebherd v. State, 484 N.E.2d 45 (Ind. Ct. App. 1985), B.R. v. State, 823 N.E.2d 301 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005), and N.J. ex rel. Jackson v. Metropolitan School District of Washington Township, 879 N.E.2d 1192 (Ind. Ct. App. 2008), for guidance on whether Bailey's actions support a disorderly conduct conviction.

The Supreme Court determined Bailey's conduct was similar to B.R.'s, a student who approached another student in anger and in the midst of a heated argument, pointed an open or unsheathed knife at the other student. The immediate danger of serious bodily injury only ended when the other student hit B.R. and left.

In the instant case, Bailey threw down his drink and coat, which could have been interpreted as freeing up his arms to fight with the dean, wrote the chief justice. In addition, he stepped toward the dean in an angry manner, with his fists clenched and yelling obscenities within inches of Knight's face.

"The record indicates Bailey backed away from Dean Knight only upon seeing Officer Hunter. It was reasonable for the trier of fact to conclude that, but for the officer's arrival, Bailey's conduct would have escalated," he wrote.

The trier of fact could reasonably infer that serious bodily injury would result had the police officer not arrived given Bailey's anger in approaching the dean, throwing his coat and drink, his verbal tirade, and his clenched fists.

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