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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. Family court judges never fail to surprise me with their irrational thinking. First of all any man who abuses his wife is not fit to be a parent. A man who can't control his anger should not be allowed around his child unsupervised period. Just because he's never been convicted of abusing his child doesn't mean he won't and maybe he hasn't but a man that has such poor judgement and control is not fit to parent without oversight - only a moron would think otherwise. Secondly, why should the mother have to pay? He's the one who made the poor decisions to abuse and he should be the one to pay the price - monetarily and otherwise. Yes it's sad that the little girl may be deprived of her father, but really what kind of father is he - the one that abuses her mother the one that can't even step up and do what's necessary on his own instead the abused mother is to pay for him???? What is this Judge thinking? Another example of how this world rewards bad behavior and punishes those who do right. Way to go Judge - NOT.

  2. Right on. Legalize it. We can take billions away from the drug cartels and help reduce violence in central America and more unwanted illegal immigration all in one fell swoop. cut taxes on the savings from needless incarcerations. On and stop eroding our fourth amendment freedom or whatever's left of it.

  3. "...a switch from crop production to hog production "does not constitute a significant change."??? REALLY?!?! Any judge that cannot see a significant difference between a plant and an animal needs to find another line of work.

  4. Why do so many lawyers get away with lying in court, Jamie Yoak?

  5. Future generations will be amazed that we prosecuted people for possessing a harmless plant. The New York Times came out in favor of legalization in Saturday's edition of the newspaper.

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