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Man’s conviction of auto theft upheld

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Although a trial court’s refusal to give a defendant’s jury instruction was an error, it was harmless and his felony auto theft conviction should be affirmed, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.

In Joseph Matheny v. State of Indiana, 49A04-1207-CR-347, Joseph Matheny appealed his felony conviction on two grounds. First, he argued that a statement he made regarding his address to an officer was obtained in violation of his constitutional privilege against self-incrimination, so it should not have been admitted at trial. The second is that the trial court abused its discretion in refusing his tendered jury instructions regarding the presumption of innocence.

Matheny was found by police in the early morning of March 24, 2012, sitting in a Honda Accord in a ditch with front end damage. The Accord belonged to a woman who reported it stolen from downtown Indianapolis the previous evening. Matheny appeared intoxicated and dropped the car’s key on the ground.

Matheny refused to identify himself, but when officers found his wallet and asked him to confirm his address, Matheny said he lived at Wheeler Mission. The mission is located very close to where the Accord was stolen. After he answered the officers, Matheny was read his Miranda  rights.

The judges affirmed the admittance of Matheny’s statement of his address to police, because questions regarding address do not fall within Miranda’s purview, Judge Terry Crone wrote.

“The fact that Matheny’s residence was ultimately incriminating does not retroactively transform Officer’s Klonne routine identification questions into interrogation for purposes of Miranda,” he wrote.

The judges found one of Matheny’s two tendered jury instructions was an incomplete and there was no error in not admitting it. But the court did err in not admitting the other instruction, the judges ruled, because Instruction No. 14, as the state had argued, did not adequately convey the essential principle that the jury should attempt to fit the evidence to the presumption that the accused is innocent.

The jury was instructed that Matheny was presumed innocent, didn’t have to prove his innocence, and the state had to prove he is guilty. In addition, the evidence doesn’t support a reasonable theory of innocence, Crone wrote, so the refusal to give the instruction was harmless error.  

 

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