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Court reverses handgun conviction

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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed today a defendant's conviction of carrying a handgun without a license because the circumstantial evidence doesn't support that the man had the requisite intent to constructively possess the gun.

In Donnell Jones v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-0909-CR850, Donnell Jones appealed his Class C felony carrying a handgun without a license conviction following his traffic stop for speeding. Jones, a mechanic, was test-driving a customer's car on his way home from work and was drinking alcohol in the car. The police officer saw Jones reaching around the front floor board of the car and in the back seat. It took the officer two attempts to stop Jones, who drove away the first time the officer stopped him.

The officer found open containers of alcohol in the car. After Jones was arrested and transported, police found a handgun under the driver's seat.

The state had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Jones carried the handgun without a license, and had actual or constructive possession over the gun by showing he had the intent and capability to maintain control over the gun.

Jones testified he didn't know about the handgun and that he was just trying to hide the alcohol from the officer, but the trial court discredited his testimony on that because Jones couldn't remember being pulled over the first time. The jury found him guilty of carrying a handgun without a license as a Class C felony, for which he was sentenced to five years executed. He also was sentenced to one year executed for operating a vehicle while intoxicated conviction, to be served concurrently with the handgun sentence.

The Court of Appeals found sufficient evidence to support Jones' conviction of operating a vehicle while intoxicated, but insufficient evidence supporting his conviction of carrying a handgun without a license, wrote Judge James Kirsch.

"In cases such as this, where the driver does not have exclusive possession of the vehicle for a long period of time before the handgun is found, we are hesitant to impute possession of the handgun solely on control of the vehicle as evidence of intent," wrote the judge.

In addition, Jones made no incriminating statements about the handgun found during the inventory of the car, and his actions of reaching around the floorboard and other seats could be because he was moving alcohol containers. The evidence showed an open bottle of gin on the hump of the front passenger side of the vehicle, unopened beer cans on the front floorboard, and an open can of beer was on the rear floorboard behind the driver's seat.

The circumstantial evidence was inadequate to support an inference of intent to carry a handgun without a license beyond a reasonable doubt.

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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