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Judges reverse theft conviction

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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a defendant's conviction of theft because the trial court failed to instruct the jury on conversion as a lesser-included offense of theft.

In Roger L. Morris v. State of Indiana, No. 02A03-0905-CR-210, the trial judge declined Roger Morris' request for an instruction on conversion partly because of a Court of Appeals case in which the appellate court found theft and conversion offenses to appear to be one and the same from a practical standpoint, but that there was a difference in the mens rea required. Morris was convicted of Class D felony theft and found to be a habitual offender.

The appellate court in the instant case found Morris' case illustrated the "elusive difference" between theft and conversion as laid out by the legislature. Department store security saw Morris stuffing merchandise into a black bag. He was recognized because he had previously shoplifted from the store. When approached by security, he dropped the bag and ran out of the store. He was caught by the employees and only had a small knife and a toothbrush on him.

It's clear Morris exerted unauthorized control over the store's items because he tried to hide the fact he was putting them in the bag and had no way to pay for them, which would support a conversion conviction. But the evidence disputes whether Morris intended to deprive the store of the use and value of the clothing for any period of time, which is needed to convict him of theft, wrote Judge Terry Crone.

In light of Morris' seemingly reckless actions and the fact he only had the toothbrush and small knife on him, a reasonable jury may find him guilty of conversion instead of theft.

Even viewing theft and conversion as one and the same crime, the law supports giving the lesser included offense instruction, the judge continued. If the two crimes can be proven by identical elements, but carry different sentencing ranges, then prosecutors would be likely to pursue the Class D felony charge to get the longer sentence for a theft conviction. 

"In sum, if criminal conversion as a class A misdemeanor and theft as a class D felony are indeed two different crimes as outlined by our legislature, then the trial court abused its discretion by failing to instruct the jury as to the lesser-included offense of conversion," wrote Judge Crone. "If the elements of conversion and theft have no practical difference, then the rule of lenity and/or the proportionality clause of the U.S. Constitution would entitle Morris to have the jury instructed on both crimes."

Judge Nancy Vaidik concurred in result. The judges remanded the case for retrial.

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  1. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  2. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  3. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  4. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  5. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

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