Justices abandon 'mere possession' rule

Back to TopE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

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.


Sponsored by
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues