Court reverses woman’s driving while suspended conviction

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Because a woman’s conviction for driving while suspended was based in part on trial court speculation that she had driven farther than was necessary to put herself out of harm’s way, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the conviction.

Charrise Belton was in her boyfriend’s vehicle, which was parked outside of an Indianapolis home in an area of the city unfamiliar to her. When he came out, she could tell he was under the influence of a drug and was angry. He started yelling at her and she feared he might assault her as he had done twice in the past. When he got out of the car again, she moved to the driver’s seat and drove toward a part of town where her relatives lived.

Approximately a half mile later, she was pulled over by police on the belief the registration for the car was expired. She admitted to driving on a suspended license, explained the situation, and the officer gave her a summons.

Belton was charged with and convicted of Class A misdemeanor driving while suspended. Belton doesn’t dispute that she drove on a suspended license but argued she did so out of manifest necessity.

The Court of Appeals found the state didn’t present sufficient evidence to dispute her necessity defense. The judge questioned at what point does the necessity to leave end and how far must she drive to be out of harm’s way. The judge wondered if Belton could have found a gas station or some other place to stop before one-half mile, but no evidence was presented that those were options.

“Our review of the record demonstrates that the trial court’s determination that the circumstances had abated to a point where it was no longer necessary for Belton to drive in the instant matter are not based upon evidence presented by the State to negate Belton’s necessity defense but rather on the trial court’s speculation that Belton had driven further than necessary, i.e., past a safe location where she could have stopped and called police,” Judge Cale Bradford wrote in Charrise Belton v. State of Indiana, 49A04-1310-CR-487.



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