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Court upholds man’s conviction for confining wife’s sister

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Although a prosecutor made an inappropriate comment during a man’s trial for criminal confinement, that comment had little persuasive effect on the jury, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Friday. The judges affirmed Jonathan Stephens’ conviction of Class C felony criminal confinement.

Prosecutors charged Stephens following an incident involving his wife, Brittany, and her sister Hannah Dickerhoff. Brittany Stephens and Dickerhoff were at the YMCA when Jonathan Stephens showed up and began arguing with his wife. At one point, he dragged Brittany to his car, which led Dickerhoff to jump in, fearing for her sister. Jonathan Stephens refused to stop the car, but eventually he stopped and pushed Dickerhoff out, causing injury to her hand.

Jonathan Stephens faced charges involving his sister-in-law and his wife, but Brittany Stephens said during his trial that she entered his car voluntarily and did not ask to be let out. Jonathan Stephens was convicted only related to Dickerhoff. He received eight years on a criminal confinement conviction, one year on a battery conviction and eight years for being a habitual offender.

In Jonathan Stephens v. State of Indiana, 85A02-1306-CR-518, Stephens claimed that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to support his criminal confinement conviction, that he received ineffective assistance from his trial attorney, and the prosecutor committed misconduct during closing arguments.

“The evidence shows that Dickerhoff entered Stephens’s vehicle after witnessing him drag Brittany to his vehicle. Stephens left the YMCA and began driving around the Wabash area. Stephens ignored Dickerhoff’s repeated pleas to let her out of the car. Eventually, Stephens even drove to another city and did not stop to let Dickerhoff out of the vehicle. When Dickerhoff called 911, Stephens still did not stop the car to let her go. Instead, he later stopped, grabbed Dickerhoff’s phone, and removed its battery. In this case, there is ample evidence from which a jury could conclude that Stephen criminally confined Dickerhoff,” Judge Rudolph Pyle III wrote.

Jonathan Stephens failed to show any prejudice was caused by his attorney’s failure to object to the line of questioning regarding a no-contact order between Jonathan and Brittany Stephens. And the judges held that most of the prosecutor’s comments were not improper. There was one statement that implied that if the jury convicted Jonathan Stephens, it would be a community service. But because he didn’t object during trial, he had to prove fundamental error, which he did not. The totality of the circumstances showed the improper comments had little persuasive effect on the jury, Pyle wrote. The jury’s verdict is supported by the evidence.

The COA remanded with the trial court to correct the sentencing order, abstract of judgment and chronological case summary to reflect the eight-year habitual offender enhancement serves as an enhancement to the Class C felony criminal confinement conviction.
 

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  1. Your article is a good intro the recent amendments to Fed.R.Civ.P. For a much longer - though not necessarily better -- summary, counsel might want to read THE CHIEF UMPIRE IS CHANGING THE STRIKE ZONE, which I co-authored and which was just published in the January issue of THE VERDICT (the monthly publication of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association).

  2. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  3. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  4. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  5. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

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