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Proof of service is state's burden

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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed an invasion of privacy conviction today because the state didn't prove the defendant knew he was the subject of an active protective order. The appellate court also concluded that notice of a protective order should come from the state.

Lisa Pitzer, who has a child with Jeffrey Tharp, filed a protective order against him in October 2008. She had the notice served at his mother's house, but it was returned because he had moved. Later, Pitzer attempted to have the order dismissed and believed it was no longer in effect. When Tharp was pulled over while Pitzer was a passenger, they learned the order was still valid. The police officer was told by the communication control operator that the protective order was served. Tharp knew there was a protective order against him because Pitzer had mentioned it, but they thought it had been dismissed.

He was convicted of Class A misdemeanor invasion of privacy. After he was arrested, the court dismissed the protective order at Pitzer's request.

The state failed to prove Tharp knowingly or intentionally violated the protective order, the Court of Appeals ruled in Jeffrey Tharp v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-0905-CR-394. The state didn't present testimony based on personal knowledge nor did it admit any documentation that Tharp was served. The appellate judges rejected the state's argument that Tharp bore the burden of proving he wasn't served and that Pitzer's oral statement to him about the no contact order was sufficient notice.

The judges concluded the exception recognized in Hendricks v. State, 649 N.E.2d 1050 (Ind. Ct. App. 1995), and Dixon v. State, 869 N.E.2d 516 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007), should be narrowly construed to require notice from an agent of the state.

"The facts of this case highlight the importance of service. Although Pitzer told Tharp about the protective order, she also erroneously told him it was no longer in effect," wrote Judge Melissa May. "Tharp should not have to rely on information from a lay person who is not knowledgeable about the status of a legal proceeding."

Placing the burden on a person to find out if a protective order exists would require him to check in multiple courts in multiple counties, which would undermine the importance of service, she continued.

The Court of Appeals also addressed a moot issue: that the trial court erred by delegating to the probation department authority to set the terms and conditions of Tharp's probation. In accordance with Lucas v. State, 501 N.E.2d 480 (Ind. Ct. App. 1986), the trial court should have imposed all conditions when Tharp was sentenced instead of giving the probation department the option to impose additional conditions.

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  1. 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.

  2. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

  3. I pd for a bankruptcy years ago with Mr Stiles and just this week received a garnishment from my pay! He never filed it even though he told me he would! Don't let this guy practice law ever again!!!

  4. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  5. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

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