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Judges analyze 'use' of body armor for first time

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The Indiana Court of Appeals interpreted the elements of unlawful use of body armor for the first time in a defendant’s appeal of his convictions following his attempt to flee from police.

French Mason appealed his convictions of Class D felonies resisting law enforcement and unlawful use of body armor. Police responded to a burglary in progress report at an Indianapolis apartment complex and began searching for the suspect or suspects. The police saw two men lying in the backseat of a car, identified themselves as police officers, and ordered the men out of the car.

Mason, one of the men in the car, got into the front seat and drove the car toward an officer. After police shot at it a few times, the other passenger got out after the car stopped and he surrendered. Mason kept trying to drive the car, crashing it several times. Police eventually used a Taser on him and took him into custody. Police discovered he was wearing a bullet proof vest while he was being checked out for injuries. Mason claimed to be wearing it because he was trying to sell it to someone in the apartment complex that night.

He was convicted of three counts of resisting law enforcement, which were merged, and one conviction of unlawful use of body armor.

In French C. Mason v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-1005-CR-475, the judges affirmed Mason’s conviction of resisting law enforcement – elevated to a Class D felony because he used a vehicle to resist. There was sufficient evidence that Mason knew the men were police officers.

On this challenge to his conviction of unlawful use of body armor, the judges had no caselaw on which to rely. Only one previous case, Haggard v. State, 771 N.E.2d 668 (Ind. Ct. App. 2002), discusses the same crime, but doesn’t clarify what constitutes “use” of body armor.

The judges believed there to be two possible interpretations of “use” under the statute defining unlawful use of body armor: that merely wearing body armor constitutes use; or that in order to “use” body armor, one must expect it to afford reasonable protection during the commission of a felony.

Using the definition of “use” as provided in the Webster’s II New College Dictionary, they chose the interpretation that a defendant must “knowingly or intentionally” use body armor as protection in the course of a felony.

“Here, Mason does not dispute that he knowingly or intentionally wore body armor, but he does dispute that he knowingly or intentionally wore it as protection against law enforcement,” wrote Judge Patricia Riley. “We cannot agree with this assertion, however. We have previously held that ‘intent is a mental function and without a confession, it must be determined from a consideration of the conduct, and the natural consequences of the conduct.’ Accordingly, intent may be proven by circumstantial evidence.”

They found sufficient evidence to show Mason intended to wear the body armor to protect him in the commission of resisting law enforcement.

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  2. Fiat justitia ruat caelum is a Latin legal phrase, meaning "Let justice be done though the heavens fall." The maxim signifies the belief that justice must be realized regardless of consequences.

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