ILNews

Court tosses man's stalking conviction

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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Simply parking on a public street and watching someone's home doesn't alone fall within the definition of "impermissible" conduct and can't be considered stalking, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today.

In a case of first impression, the appellate panel ruled 2-1 on Donald D. Vanhorn v. State of Indiana, 84-A01-0711-CR-505, overturning the Terre Haute man's conviction for felony stalking. At issue in the case was the interplay between "harassment" and "impermissible contact" and whether enough evidence existed to support a stalking conviction.

Donald VanHorn knew the alleged victim, Robert Franks, from a radio service business where Franks worked and VanHorn was a regular customer. In mid-January 2007, Franks' wife noticed a black sport utility vehicle parked on the opposite side of the street near their home. The same thing happened three more times, and Franks took photos and notified police, though VanHorn never made any type of contact. VanHorn was eventually arrested and was tried on a felony stalking charge, and a jury convicted him in August 2007. He received three years probation and six months home detention.

On appeal, the appellate panel examined Indiana Codes 35-45-10-2 and 35-45-10-3, which focus on harassment and impermissible contact. The latter definition includes knowingly or intentionally following or pursuing the victim, and that part of the statute exempts statutorily or constitutionally protected conduct from the definition of harassment.

The Court of Appeals decided that the evidence was insufficient and the contact in this case wasn't "impermissible."

"If being on a city street is found to be 'impermissible' merely because an individual homeowner did not grant permission, then the victim has been improperly granted power over the defendant that the victim does not possess," Judge Terry Crone wrote, noting that a defendant's due process rights must be safeguarded in a situation where that person is lawfully in a public place and conduct alone is alleged to constitute harassment.

"In other words, when the government prohibits an individual from engaging in otherwise lawful conduct, it is important to provide the accused with notice and an opportunity to be heard," he wrote, adding that a protective order could be issued to declare any type of conduct off-limits.

"We do not mean to suggest that no circumstances exist in which only public sightings may constitute harassment or impermissible contact, but in this case nothing occurred that would remotely indicate to VanHorn that his conduct was impermissible."

Judge Cale Bradford dissented, writing that he is sympathetic to the majority's perspective but that he sees the jury system as an adequate safeguard for preventing unfair convictions for lawful behavior.

"By requiring official proof of 'impermissibility' to satisfy the harassment component, the majority adds an element of proof which the crime of 'stalking,' as defined, does not contain," the judge wrote. ... "Given my confidence in the fact finder's ability to discern 'stalking' from lawful activity, I would not disturb VanHorn's conviction."
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  1. "So we broke with England for the right to "off" our preborn progeny at will, and allow the processing plant doing the dirty deeds (dirt cheap) to profit on the marketing of those "products of conception." I was completely maleducated on our nation's founding, it would seem. (But I know the ACLU is hard at work to remedy that, too.)" Well, you know, we're just following in the footsteps of our founders who raped women, raped slaves, raped children, maimed immigrants, sold children, stole property, broke promises, broke apart families, killed natives... You know, good God fearing down home Christian folk! :/

  2. Who gives a rats behind about all the fluffy ranking nonsense. What students having to pay off debt need to know is that all schools aren't created equal and students from many schools don't have a snowball's chance of getting a decent paying job straight out of law school. Their lowly ranked lawschool won't tell them that though. When schools start honestly (accurately) reporting *those numbers, things will get interesting real quick, and the looks on student's faces will be priceless!

  3. Whilst it may be true that Judges and Justices enjoy such freedom of time and effort, it certainly does not hold true for the average working person. To say that one must 1) take a day or a half day off work every 3 months, 2) gather a list of information including recent photographs, and 3) set up a time that is convenient for the local sheriff or other such office to complete the registry is more than a bit near-sighted. This may be procedural, and hence, in the near-sighted minds of the court, not 'punishment,' but it is in fact 'punishment.' The local sheriffs probably feel a little punished too by the overwork. Registries serve to punish the offender whilst simultaneously providing the public at large with a false sense of security. The false sense of security is dangerous to the public who may not exercise due diligence by thinking there are no offenders in their locale. In fact, the registry only informs them of those who have been convicted.

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  5. A common refrain in the comments on this website comes from people who cannot locate attorneys willing put justice over retainers. At the same time the judiciary threatens to make pro bono work mandatory, seemingly noting the same concern. But what happens to attorneys who have the chumptzah to threatened the legal status quo in Indiana? Ask Gary Welch, ask Paul Ogden, ask me. Speak truth to power, suffer horrendously accordingly. No wonder Hoosier attorneys who want to keep in good graces merely chase the dollars ... the powers that be have no concerns as to those who are ever for sale to the highest bidder ... for those even willing to compromise for $$$ never allow either justice or constitutionality to cause them to stand up to injustice or unconstitutionality. And the bad apples in the Hoosier barrel, like this one, just keep rotting.

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