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Judge: better to assess defendant under mental health law, not criminal one

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In a resisting arrest and battery case that drew opinions from each of the sitting judges on the Indiana Court of Appeals panel, Judge Paul Mathias addressed the issue of whether the defendant suffered from a mental illness. He urged law enforcement to consider mental health intervention to treat troubled – but innocuous – conduct instead of relying on criminal law.

Phillip Griffin appealed his convictions of Class A misdemeanors resisting law enforcement and battery upon a law enforcement officer that stemmed from his fleeing from Lawrence police officer Matthew Miller. Miller stopped his patrol car after passing Griffin and believing he may be mentally unstable. Griffin shouted at the officer, threw “shadow punches” at the officer and then ran. Miller pursued and used his Taser; Griffin hit Miller as the officer attempted to handcuff him.

Senior Judge Randall T. Shepard wrote for the majority, which reversed the resisting conviction, but upheld the battery conviction. Shepard and Judge Paul Mathias departed from Cole v. State, 878 N.E.2d 882, 884 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007), and its line of cases, in which the appeals court held that the resisting statute does not require that the order to stop be lawful. The majority focused on the state’s lack of evidence demonstrating grounds for detention.

“In the present case, the State explicitly argues that it need not establish any facts giving rise to probable cause or articulable suspicion that would have warranted detaining Griffin in order to sustain the conviction. Griffin appeared to Miller to be unstable, and he threw ‘shadow punches’ from a considerable distance before running away, but none of Griffin’s actions suggested any criminal offense,” Shepard wrote in Phillip Griffin v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1212-CR-964.

The majority declined to reweigh the evidence regarding the battery conviction and upheld it. Shepard and Mathias also reversed the order that Griffin perform community service in lieu of paying court costs and remanded to address the question of payment.

Judge L. Mark Bailey dissented from his colleagues regarding the reversal of the resisting law enforcement conviction. He cited Cole in support of his argument, writing he would follow the settled law as discussed in that case.

Mathias devoted his opinion to addressing concerns with Miller’s conduct in the case, especially since he suspected Griffin may suffer from a mental illness at the time in question. There are many people who appeared “troubled” but not to such an extent that requires an officer to intervene because he or she seems to be dangerous or disabled, he pointed out.

“Finally, it is important to remember that Officer Miller did what he was trained to do in the situation. What I hope and mean to suggest is that law enforcement officials throughout Indiana can best reaffirm their commitment to serve all of Indiana’s citizens by remembering the criteria for mental health intervention as an initial alternative to treating troubling and troubled, but otherwise innocuous, conduct as a possible crime,” Mathias wrote.
 

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