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Rule of lenity doesn’t apply on man’s escape conviction

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The rule of lenity doesn’t apply to the case of a Marion County man who tried to break into a home while serving home detention as a condition of probation, the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded. The judges upheld Diano Gordon’s convictions of Class D felonies escape and attempted residential entry.

Around noon on Dec. 28, 2011, Jodi Pearce heard loud noises coming from her next-door neighbor’s home. She saw two men try to kick in the back door. She called 911, watched the men leave and ran outside to see what direction they headed. An hour later, Pearce rode with a police officer to Gordon’s home, where she identified the man standing outside as the shorter of the two men trying to break into the home.

Gordon had an electronic monitoring bracelet on his ankle as a condition of home detention at the time of the attempted break-in.

At the bench trial, Pearce testified that Gordon was one of the men she saw; Gordon didn’t object to Pearce’s identification testimony.

Because he failed to object at trial, Gordon argued on appeal that the fundamental error doctrine should prevent admittance of evidence regarding the show-up identification by Pearce on the day of the attempted break-in.

“Pearce observed Gordon for several minutes in the middle of the day at a fairly close distance. Furthermore, her attention was focused solely on Gordon and his companion for that length of time. And Pearce was absolutely certain that Gordon was the man kicking her neighbor’s door. Under these facts and circumstances, we cannot conclude that the show-up identification was unduly suggestive,” Judge Paul Mathias wrote in Diano L. Gordon v. State of Indiana, 49A05-1205-CR-242.

Even if the judges concluded the trial court erred by admitting evidence of the show-up identification, Gordon’s fundamental error argument would fail because Pearce watched him try to break into the neighbor’s home and saw him leave the scene, Mathias continued. Therefore, there was an independent basis for the in-court identification.

The COA rejected Gordon’s claim that the rule of lenity should apply to his escape conviction and be reduced to Class A misdemeanor unauthorized absence from home detention. But both statutes at issue here put the offender on notice that the conduct would result either in Class D felony escape or Class A misdemeanor unauthorized absence from home detention.

“It was within the prosecutor’s discretion to determine which charge was warranted by Gordon’s conduct,” Mathias wrote.

 

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