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Indiana Court Decisions - July 23 to Aug. 5, 2104

IL Staff
August 13, 2014
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7th Circuit Court of Appeals

July 23

Criminal – Transporting/Possessing Contraband

United States of America v. Haitham Mohamed

13-2368

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the denial of a man’s motions for judgment of acquittal on a charge that he brought cigarettes from Kentucky to sell in Indiana without paying an Indiana tax on them. The government couldn’t show that Haitham Mohamed intended to sell the 1,170 packs of cigarettes in Indiana.

A Speedway police officer pulled Mohamed over in June 2012 after he ran a red light. Mohamed’s van contained 23,400 cigarettes he purchased in Kentucky and they did not contain Indiana tax stamps. State law requires a tax on all cigarettes sold, used, consumed, handled or distributed within the state. He was indicted with one count of knowingly transporting and possessing contraband cigarettes in violation of the Contraband Cigarette Trafficking Act.  

Mohamed filed a motion for judgment of acquittal under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29, which the District Court denied. A jury convicted him of the charge.

Mohamed only challenged the portion of the cigarette trafficking charge that says the government has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the cigarettes were shipped, transported, received, possessed, sold, distributed or purchased under circumstances in which Indiana law requires the cigarettes to bear the tax stamps.

“Because Indiana does not tax all cigarettes possessed within the state, the government needed to prove more than Mr. Mohamed’s possession of unstamped cigarettes in Indiana to convict him of violating the CCTA. Rather, the government needed to prove that Mr. Mohamed possessed the cigarettes for the purpose of selling, using, consuming, handling, or distributing them within Indiana in order to establish that they were subject to Indiana’s cigarette tax,” wrote Judge Amy J. St. Eve of the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, who was sitting by designation.

“We are not persuaded that Mr. Mohamed’s violation of Indiana’s requirements for transporting unstamped cigarettes over Indiana highways alone is sufficient to support his conviction for violation of the CCTA. I.C. 6-7-1-24(d) creates a presumption that a person (apart from the three listed exceptions) possessing more than 1,500 cigarettes not bearing Indiana tax stamps has the cigarettes available and intended for sale within the state. The jury instructions, however, made no mention of the presumption, and the government never argued at trial that it applied. Had the government actually relied on the presumption at trial, Mr. Mohamed may have elected to present evidence rebutting the presumption, rather than rest his defense without presenting affirmative evidence. Thus, unlike in (United States v. Boggs, 775 F.2d 582 (4th Cir. 1985)), the government cannot use the presumption to its advantage on appeal. Without the benefit of the presumption, the government has not presented sufficient evidence to allow a reasonable trier of fact to determine that Mr. Mohamed intended to sell, distribute, or otherwise dispose of the cigarettes within Indiana,” she continued.

The government’s evidence at trial was not sufficient to show that Mohamed intended to sell the cigarettes in Indiana. Without this evidence, his conviction cannot stand. The judges remanded the case with instructions to enter the judgment of acquittal.
__________

July 25

Civil – Recruitment of Counsel

Leonard Dewitt v. Corizon, Inc., et al.

13-2930

A prisoner was improperly denied counsel to help with discovery in his federal lawsuit that claimed a medical provider was deliberately indifferent to glaucoma that ultimately required removal of part of his eye.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed an order of summary judgment in favor of the health care provider.

District Judge William T. Lawrence in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Indiana, Terre Haute Division, denied Leonard Dewitt’s motions to recruit counsel and granted summary judgment to Corizon, which provided medical care to Dewitt while he was incarcerated.

“Because we find that the district court abused its discretion in denying the motions for recruitment of counsel, and those denials affected Dewitt’s ability to develop and litigate his case, we will not reach the merits of the summary judgment order. Therefore, we reverse and remand so that the court may recruit counsel and so Dewitt can conduct further discovery in order to litigate the case,” Judge Ann Claire Williams wrote for the 7th Circuit panel.

Lawrence found in favor of Corizon because he reasoned that doctors exercised reasoned professional judgment inconsistent with deliberate indifference to Dewitt’s condition, but the 7th Circuit found Dewitt was prejudiced by denial of counsel to assist with discovery.

“(C)ould a lawyer have helped Dewitt present sufficient facts to create a genuine issue about why the doctor declined to follow a specialist’s recommendations or advised a continuation of ineffective treatments that prolonged his pain? We think there is a reasonable likelihood counsel could have aided here and made a difference in the outcome,” Williams wrote.

The District Court also improperly disregarded Dewitt’s Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(f) request for additional time for discovery. “While a district court has broad discretion to deny such motions … it is improper to decide summary judgment without first ruling on a pending 56(f) motion,” the 7th Circuit held.
__________

July 31

Criminal – Sentence/Crack Cocaine

United States of America v. William J. Davidson

14-1158

A man sentenced to 30 years in federal prison for his role as a Gary gang member who sold large quantities of crack cocaine will have a new shot at a sentence modification, as will the judge who wrote that the defendant may have been linked to several gang-related murders.

William J. Davidson’s 2003 conviction of two counts of distributing at least 50 grams of crack cocaine was affirmed on appeal. Circuit Judge Richard Posner wrote that a District judge in Hammond subsequently erred in denying Davidson’s motion for sentence reduction under revised guidelines made retroactive in 2011.

“(W)hether the defendant in this case is liable for the sale of illegal drugs by other members of the conspiracy that he had joined, in an amount in excess of the limit (8.4 kilograms) for the sentence reduction that he seeks, depends not only on whether the sale quantity was foreseeable to him (which the judge found that it was), but also on whether he joined with those other conspirators in a joint undertaking of which the making of those sales was an objective, or had agreed to join in such an undertaking. And that is a question that neither the district judge nor the government addressed,” Posner wrote for the panel.

Posner also noted that in sentencing Davidson in 2003, District Judge James T. Moody remarked that “‘more likely than not, he (Davidson) was a shooter,’ that is, he had been involved, as either an accomplice or the actual triggerman, in murders carried out in furtherance of the conspiracy” during his three years of membership in the Concord Affiliated gang.

“… It is noteworthy that nowhere in his opinion denying the sentence reduction does the judge treat the murders as relevant conduct; rather he treats the gang’s entire sales during the period of the defendant’s membership as relevant conduct,” Posner wrote.

“The possible significance of the murders to the question of the defendant’s relevant conduct thus remains an unresolved issue. It is a factual issue for the district judge to resolve in the first instance, as are any other factual issues regarding the defendant’s relevant conduct.”
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Aug. 5

Civil – Disability Benefits

Marilyn R. Boley v. Carolyn W. Colvin, acting commissioner of Social Security

13-1252

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal by a federal judge of a woman’s petition for judicial review of the decision to deny rehearing her request for Social Security disability benefits. In doing so, the judges overruled a 1980 7th Circuit decision with similar facts.

Marilyn Boley was denied benefits by the Social Security Administration. Instead of requesting a hearing by an administrative law judge within 60 days of the denial as is allowed by regulations, Boley took nine months to make the request. The SSA notified Boley of its decision to deny benefits but did not send the notice to her attorney. Boley was ill at the time and relied on her attorney to protect her interests.

When her lawyer requested the hearing, the ALJ dismissed the request. The ALJ ruled Boley lacked “good cause” for the delay in her request, so an extension of time to file is not supported.

Chief Judge Richard Young in the Southern District of Indiana then dismissed Boley’s petition for judicial review, ruling that the ALJ’s decision to dispense with an oral hearing means that the court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction. Young relied on 42 U.S.C. Section 405(g), which authorizes review of the agency’s final decisions, to make his decision.

This case hinges on what is considered a “hearing,” which Young assumed meant an oral procedure required by a statute or regulation. The 7th Circuit concluded that “hearing” means whatever process the SSA deems adequate to produce a final decision – a view that no court of appeals has explicitly adopted. The panel’s decision follows Weinberger v. Salfi, 422 U.S. 749, 763-67 (1975), and Matthews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 326-32 (1976). Under those cases, Boley is entitled to judicial review of her contention that the agency mishandled her case.

But 34 years ago, the 7th Circuit Court in Watters v. Harris, 656 F. 2d 234 (7th Cir. 1980), held otherwise. Watters is materially identical to Boley’s situation, but in that case, the appeals panel dismissed for want of jurisdiction and held that the agency’s decision to not take oral testimony blocked judicial review. Watters made jurisdiction turn on the presence of a constitutional argument, but the panel decided that Watters is wrongly decided.

“The prospect of moving from one side of a conflict to another is not attractive, especially when the conflict is so old and the Supreme Court has been content to allow the disagreement to continue. Nonetheless, we have a duty to apply §405(g) the way the Supreme Court did in Salfi and Eldridge, and we very much want to give the statute a reading that avoids unnecessary constitutional litigation of the kind that Watters and similar decisions invite,” Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote.

Watters is overruled. This opinion has been circulated to all judges in active service under Circuit Rule 40(e). None requested a hearing en banc.

“The District Court’s judgment is vacated, and the case is remanded with instructions to decide whether substantial evidence, and appropriate procedures, underlie the decision that Boley lacks ‘good cause’ for her delay in seeking intra-agency review.”

Indiana Supreme Court

July 24

Civil Tort – Partnership Agreement/Employment

Carol Sparks Drake v. Thomas A. Dickey, Craig Anderson, Charles E. Podell, and Duke Realty Corp.

29S02-1407-CT-483

The Indiana Supreme Court summarily affirmed a Court of Appeals ruling that a jury should decide whether a real estate company intentionally induced a law firm to terminate an attorney’s partnership agreement as the result of a dispute over a land agreement.

Last December, a Court of Appeals panel ruled that the trial court erred in concluding that Carol Sparks Drake failed to present a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Duke Realty intentionally induced her employer, Parr Richey Obremskey & Morton, to terminate her as a partner.

The Supreme Court order reinstates the Court of Appeals ruling that remands the matter to Hamilton Superior Court.

The Court of Appeals ruling concluded, “In sum, it is for a jury to weigh the evidence and competing inferences and to determine Duke Realty’s intent, including whether Duke Realty intended to interfere with Drake’s partnership agreement, whether Duke Realty reasonably contemplated that its threat was certain or substantially certain to interfere with that agreement without regard to whether Duke Realty actually intended or desired that result, or whether Duke Realty’s threat to withdraw all of its business from Parr Richey was merely an expression of a client’s legitimate concern about a conflict of interest.”

The case drew amicus briefs from the Indianapolis Bar Association as well as the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Justice Steven David did not participate.

Indiana Court of Appeals

July 23

Criminal – Sex Offender Registration/Double Jeopardy

Willie L. Montgomery v. State of Indiana

82A05-1401-CR-34

The Indiana Court of Appeals has ordered a trial on a charge of failing to register as a sex offender in Vanderburgh County, ruling that a man can be charged in that county even though he pleaded guilty to failing to register in a different county based on the same move.

Willie Montgomery was convicted of sexual battery and is required to register as a sex offender. When Indiana State Police went to his Pike County home to ensure his registered address was correct, police learned from his parents that Montgomery moved to Vanderburgh County to live with his girlfriend.

Police confirmed he moved to Vanderburgh County and did not update his address with either county as is required by statute. Within two days, he was charged with failing to register in both counties; Montgomery pleaded guilty in Pike County. He then filed a motion to dismiss the charge in Vanderburgh County, alleging it is barred based on his plea agreement and double jeopardy principles.

This issue came before the Court of Appeals on interlocutory appeal.

“Montgomery argues that there is a single duty for a sex offender to register with the appropriate law enforcement officials when moving and asserts that he can be guilty of only one offense. However, Montgomery’s interpretation does not comport with our reading of Indiana Code section 11-8-8-17(a),” Judge John Baker wrote. “There are two duties here, one for a sex offender to reside at his registered address in Pike County and one to register as a sex offender in Vanderburgh County. Montgomery is guilty of two divisible offenses. Therefore, he could fulfill or omit one duty without fulfilling or omitting the other. As such, we cannot find that Montgomery was charged twice with the same offense for the same act. Rather, we conclude that he was properly charged twice for two separate offenses.”

The judges also found that Montgomery’s charge in Vanderburgh County does not violate double jeopardy principles. He was charged with two counts of failing to register under I.C. 11-8-8-17(a), and different evidence would be required to prove each charge because the charges were the result of two divisible omissions. 
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July 25

Civil Plenary – Administrative Remedies/Suit Against City

Joseph D. Barnette, Jr., and Charlene Barnette, and City of Carmel Department of Community Services, Division of Building and Code Services, et al. v. US Architects, LLP, Albert D. Bowen, et al.

29A02-1304-PL-309

A Carmel couple who successfully sued the city that at first permitted construction of an accessory building that neighbors later complained was taller than zoning codes allowed lost at the Indiana Court of Appeals.

The panel reversed Hamilton Superior Judge Steve Nation’s grant of a declaratory judgment in favor of Albert and Julie Bowen and U.S. Architects, holding that the plaintiffs had not exhausted their administrative remedies with the city before suing.

The Carmel Department of Community Services issued a building permit and certificate of occupancy after the Bowens and their architect submitted design plans. But after neighbors Joseph and Charlene Barnette complained about the building height of more than 36 feet, the department notified the Bowens that the building was in violation.

The ordinance limits the height of accessory buildings to 18 feet.

The city advised the Bowens to seek a variance through the Carmel/Clay Board of Zoning Appeals, but the BZA denied the variance request. The Bowens didn’t appeal the zoning board ruling or DCS’ withdrawal of the certificate of occupancy, choosing to sue instead. The trial court ruled in favor of the Bowens and granted a declaratory judgment.

“The Barnettes contend that the declaratory judgment action should be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because the Bowens failed to exhaust their administrative remedies. We agree,” Judge Terry Crone wrote for the panel.

The matter is remanded to the trial court with orders to dismiss the complaint.

“The DCS is not estopped from enforcing the (zoning) Ordinance because the relevant facts were equally known by or accessible to the Bowens and the City. And because the Bowens failed to exhaust their administrative remedies, which would have afforded them due process, they cannot complain about a due process violation,” the panel held.

The panel affirmed the trial court ruling that U.S. Architects lacked standing to bring a declaratory judgment action.
__________

July 28

Criminal – Aggravated Battery/Substantial Risk of Death

Bobby Alexander v. State of Indiana

49A04-1207-CR-351

A defendant who shot at a car with a semiautomatic rifle, causing a bullet to graze the driver, did not commit Class B felony aggravated battery because the injury inflicted upon the victim did not create a substantial risk of death.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed one of Bobby Alexander’s convictions for Class B felony aggravated battery. The court concluded Alexander was convicted on the basis of his actions rather than on the basis of the statute which requires the injury to pose the risk of death.

Alexander was charged with two counts of Class A felony attempted murder and two counts of Class B felony aggravated battery after he shot at a car and injured two of the occupants. The passenger suffered significant injuries, but the driver, Ryan Little, sustained a graze wound on his back and did not receive any medical treatment.

Following a two-day trial, the jury found Alexander guilty of two aggravated battery charges but not guilty of the attempted murder charges.

The Court of Appeals agreed with Alexander that the state’s evidence was insufficient to prove that the defendant knowingly inflicted an injury on Little that created a substantial risk of death.

“Indeed, the record before us reveals that the State appears to have been confused on this substantial risk of death element for the Class B felony aggravated battery charge,” Judge Rudolph Pyle wrote for the court. “In both the charging information and the State’s closing argument, the State asserted that it needed to prove that Alexander’s actions of shooting at Little’s car created a substantial risk of death. However, the aggravated battery statute clearly provides that it is the injury inflicted upon the victim – not the defendant’s actions – that must create a substantial risk of death.”

The Court of Appeals remanded with instructions that the trial court enter judgment of conviction for battery as a Class C felony and resentence accordingly.

Miscellaneous – Grandparent Visitation

J.P. v. G.M. and R.M.

38A02-1311-MI-960

A father who asked the trial court for a continuance to hire a lawyer after he realized his child’s grandparents had hired an attorney was prejudiced when the request was denied, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.

The appeals panel reversed an order granting grandparents of a 3-year-old child visitation and remanded for a new hearing.

The case involves the father and the maternal grandparents of a child whose mother died a little more than a year after the child was born.

Jay Circuit Judge Brian D. Hutchison awarded grandparents visitation similar to that awarded to a noncustodial parent under the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines after a brief hearing. Father was not represented but asked for a continuance after expressing surprise that grandparents were represented. “I thought we were all just going to do it without an attorney so I didn’t get one,” father said, according to the record.

“Under the circumstances, we conclude that Father demonstrated good cause for a continuance of the hearing, that this case involved at least some complexity as well as a fundamental right of Father, and that Father was prejudiced by the denial of his motion for a continuance,” Judge Elaine Brown wrote for the panel.

“We also conclude that a delay would not have prejudiced Grandparents to an extent to justify denial of the continuance. Therefore, we conclude that the trial court abused its dicretion in denying Father’s motion to continue, and because we so find, we do not address Father’s other arguments.”___________

_________

July 29

Criminal – Child Molesting/Fair Trial/Testimony

Ryan E. Bean v. State of Indiana

91A02-1310-CR-912

The child molesting conviction of a Lafayette man has again been overturned by the Indiana Court of Appeals because of problems with statements he made to police.

Ryan Bean was convicted in 2010 of Class A felony child molesting for abusing his daughter, H.B. That conviction was thrown out when the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled his confession was obtained in violation of Miranda rights.

Bean went voluntarily with Carroll and White county detectives to the Lafayette police station under the impression he was going to be questioned in connection with an investigation about child pornography. When the questioning turned to allegations made by his daughter, Bean invoked his right to counsel but the police did not honor his request.

During his retrial, the prosecutor called White County Sheriff Patrick Shafer to testify. Defense counsel objected, noting the admission of Bean’s interview at the first trial caused the second trial.

The trial court also expressed concern that even by narrowly questioning Shafer about the investigation process, the prosecutor could give the jury the impression that Bean said something to police. This, in turn, could penalize Bean for invoking his right against self-incrimination.

The prosecutor proceeded and asked Shafer about the pretrial investigation methods.

Bean appealed, asserting the prosecutor committed misconduct by having Shafer testify and by reinforcing in his closing arguments the vouching testimony from H.B.’s mother and the Indiana Department of Child Services investigator.

Like the trial court, the Court of Appeals found Shafer’s testimony punished Bean for exercising his Miranda rights.

“But most importantly, Sheriff Shafer’s testimony invited the jurors to speculate about what occurred during his interview with Bean – it implied either that he interviewed Bean and that Bean was silent or that Bean spoke during the interview but for some unknown reason, jurors were not permitted to hear what he said,” Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote for the court. “Both implications were improper – a prosecutor may not make a statement that a jury may reasonably interpret as an invitation to draw an adverse inference from a defendant’s silence … and this Court had already held that Bean’s Fifth Amendment rights were violated during his pretrial interview, making the substance of this interview inadmissible.”

The Court of Appeals found Bean was denied a fair trial and reversed his conviction. In a footnote, the court stated Bean may be retried.
__________

July 30

Civil Plenary – Negligence/Breach of Contract

Land Innovators Company, L.P., R.N. Thompson, Trinity Homes, Inc. and Trinity Homes, LLC d/b/a Beazer Homes v. Michael L. Bogan and Melody A. Bogan

29A05-1306-PL-308

A couple whose lakeside house was built at a different elevation than specified in the site development plan will not be able to call the wrecking crew yet.

Fishers residents Michael and Melody Bogan sued the developer of Lake Stonebridge subdivision and the homebuilder after their home’s lower level flooded twice. The site development plan called for the lower-level elevation of their home to be at 789 feet, but to accommodate a change the Bogans requested, the basement’s finished floor elevation was 788.04 feet.

After the trial court awarded the homeowners partial summary judgment against the homebuilder, Trinity Homes LLC, and the subdivision developers, Land Innovators L.P., and R.N. Thompson, the Bogans filed a motion requesting, in part, the court allow the home to be removed from the lot.

The trial court granted the motion but stayed the order pending appeal.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed. The COA ruled the trial court’s decision was improper without the presentation of evidence.

On appeal, Land Innovators, Thompson and Trinity Homes argued other alternatives besides removal of the home are available to remedy the problem.  

“Whether the appellants’ contentions on this point are correct is a matter we need not address,” Judge Margret Robb wrote for the court. “However, we agree that the appellants should have the opportunity to present evidence regarding other potential remedies and that the trial court must make a proper determination that injunctive relief is appropriate in this case.”

The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment to the Bogans on liability for negligence, negligence per se, breach of contract and breach of covenants against Trinity. The COA also upheld summary judgment to the Bogans for breach of covenants against Land Innovators and Thompson.  

In addition, the Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of Bogans’ claim of constructive fraud against Trinity and their claim of negligence against the developers. Finally, the COA affirmed the denial of the developers’ claim for indemnification.  

Civil Plenary – Insurance

Selective Insurance Company of South Carolina and 500 Rangeline Road, LLC v. Erie Insurance Exchange, Welch & Wilson Properties, LLC d/b/a Hammons Storage, Allianz Global Risks U.S. Insurance Company

73A01-1307-PL-311

A split Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a trial court’s finding that a landlord was not covered by the tenant’s insurance policy.

After pipes in a warehouse sprinkler system burst, the tenant’s insurance company, Erie Insurance Exchange filed a subrogation lawsuit against the building’s owner Rangeline LLC.

The trial court concluded Erie did not owe Rangeline a defense or indemnity in the underlying litigation.

On appeal, Rangeline argued that the additional insured endorsement in the policy provided coverage. Moreover, Rangeline asserted the A/I Endorsement language did not restrict coverage to only claims for which the landlord would have liability due to the actions of the tenant but instead extended a broader grant of coverage for any liability arising out of the leased premises.

Erie countered no coverage existed under the A/I Endorsement because the sprinkler system was not part of the premises leased to the tenant. Erie cited the Indiana Administrative Code in claiming that Rangeline retained control of the sprinkler system.

Pointing to its decision in Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Mich. Mut. Ins. Co., 891 N.E.2d 99 (Ind. Ct. App. 2008), the Court of Appeals found a significant connection between the accident and the leased premises.

Judge Margret Robb dissented, agreeing with the trial court that the A/I Endorsement of the policy does not provide coverage for Rangeline in the underlying litigation.
__________

July 31

Criminal – Trial in Absentia/Military

William T. Calvert v. State of Indiana

32A01-1312-CR-535

A 20-year-old U.S. Army private had his conviction for underage drinking overturned because Hendricks Superior Court denied his motion for a continuance and held the trial while he was deployed in Afghanistan.

William Calvert was charged with illegal consumption of alcohol by a minor, a Class C misdemeanor, after the Hendricks County Sheriff’s Department found him and his friends drinking at a Plainfield residence.

The trial date was rescheduled several times both by the court acting on its own and by the defense attorney. One day before the hearing was set to begin, Calvert’s lawyer again notified the court that the defendant was serving overseas and filed another motion for a continuance.

The prosecution objected, noting the several previous continuances were creating an undue hardship for the state’s witness. The trial court denied the defense motion and proceeded to try Calvert in absentia. Subsequently, Calvert was found guilty and sentenced to 60 days and 58 days suspended.

Calvert appealed, arguing the trial court erred when it tried him in absentia.

The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed and reversed the conviction.

“Here, Calvert’s deployment to Afghanistan justified a continuance of his trial,” Judge Edward Najam wrote for the court. “The State of Indiana cannot compel a defendant’s presence for a judicial proceeding while, at the same time, the United States compels his absence for active duty in military service overseas.”

The Court of Appeals was not persuaded by the state’s argument against the continuance because of the inconvenience the delay would cause for its witness. The COA noted any hardship was outweighed by the prejudice suffered by Calvert when he was denied the opportunity to be present at his trial.
__________ 

Aug. 5

Criminal – Amendment of Charging Information/Forgery

Dustin Blythe v. State of Indiana

71A03-1306-CR-228

A St. Joseph County man charged with multiple counts of forgery after falsifying signatures on an election ballot petition for Barack Obama in 2008 was not prejudiced when the state was allowed to amend the charging information at the end of his trial. But, the Indiana Court of Appeals held the evidence only supports convicting him of one count of forgery, not nine.

Dustin Blythe and three others were charged in 2012 after officials accused them of forging signatures on petitions to get Democratic presidential candidates on the primary ballot. Blythe was employed by the St. Joseph County Voter Registration Office at the time he allegedly falsified the ballot petitions.

Blythe faced nine counts of Class C forgery and one count of Class D felony falsely making a petition of nomination. The state alleged that he knowingly uttered a written instrument that purported to have been made by another person or by authority of one who did not give authority, by forging signatures on the election ballot petitions. Blythe’s defense focused on the term “uttered” and his attorney argued based on the definition, he did not do any of the things included under that definition.

After Blythe presented his defense, the prosecution moved to amend the charging information to instead say Blythe knowingly “made or uttered” the written instrument. Blythe argued allowing the change would prejudice him or require a new trial, but the judge allowed the amendment. Blythe was convicted as charged.

The Court of Appeals found no error by the trial court in allowing the state to make the late change to the charging information. Judge Elaine Brown pointed out that the defense Blythe presented would have been the same if the change had been made before trial. He was able to present an appropriate defense to the amended charges, “and in fact did so from the commencement of his trial,” she wrote.

But the trial court did err when it denied his motion on the judgment with respect to forgery counts II through IX. The evidence supports just one conviction of forgery because the falsified signatures were placed on ballot petitions during a relatively short period of time in the county and the placement of the falsified signatures was performed for a single purpose.

The judges ordered eight of his forgery counts vacated, as well as his conviction of Class D felony falsely making a petition of nomination because that is a factually lesser-included offense of the forgeries alleged in counts I through IX.•

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  1. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

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  4. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  5. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

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