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Justices abandon 'mere possession' rule

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The Indiana Supreme Court's decision Thursday abandoned the "mere possession rule" when it comes to convictions of theft and receiving stolen property and restored the state's original view that the possession of recently stolen property should be considered with other evidence in the case.

Since Bolton v. State, 254 Ind. 648, 261 N.E.2d 841 (1970), the Supreme Court's jurisprudence "took a noticeable turn" and caselaw decided after Bolton adhered to some variation of the rule that unexplained possession of recently stolen property standing alone is sufficient to support a guilty verdict for theft, called the mere possession rule, wrote Justice Robert Rucker. However, in Thursday's case, Kail Fortson v. State of Indiana, No. 82S04-0811-CR-592, the justices unanimously decided to revert to what the jurisdiction had previously held before Bolton: the mere unexplained possession of recently stolen property standing alone doesn't automatically support a conviction of theft.

"In essence, the fact of possession and all the surrounding evidence about the possession must be assessed to determine whether any rational juror could find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt," wrote Justice Rucker, noting this also applies to the rule concerning the charge of receiving stolen property.

Kail Fortson was driving a truck police stopped because they knew it had been reported stolen just a few hours early. Fortson was charged and convicted of receiving stolen property. Fortson appealed his conviction challenging the evidence and argued the state hadn't proved he had knowledge the truck was stolen. The Indiana Court of Appeals split and reversed Fortson's conviction.

The high court agreed with the majority's reasoning for overturning Fortson's conviction: there was no evidence Fortson attempted to conceal the truck from the officers or physically resist arrest, nor did he provide evasive answers. The state could only prove he was in possession of the recently stolen property but not that he knew the truck was stolen.

"And with our holding today, the same conclusion would obtain had Fortson been charged with theft as opposed to receiving stolen property," wrote the justice.

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  1. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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