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Trial judge's comments spur COA reversal

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Because of a trial judge's statements following the conviction of a man for having a gun in a controlled area of an airport, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the conviction for insufficient evidence.

Daniel Kribs challenged his conviction following a bench trial of Class A misdemeanor entering a controlled area of an airport with a weapon or explosive in Kribs v. State of Indiana, No. 49A05-0904-CR-225. Kribs has a valid permit to carry his gun, which he carries on a consistent basis. On the day he went to the airport, he put the loaded gun inside the pocket of his jacket. An airport employee saw the gun as it went through the X-ray machine and called Indianapolis Airport Police. Kribs admitted the gun was his but said he put it in his jacket without realizing it and forgot it was there.

Kribs argued the state was required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he actually knew he was carrying the weapon to be convicted.

Chief Judge John Baker noted that had the trial court remained silent, it's likely the appellate court would have confirmed Kribs' conviction. The Court of Appeals could have inferred the trial judge didn't believe Kribs' story or gave more weight to the evidence that he always carried the gun inside his jacket pocket. But the trial judge said he believed Kribs didn't remember he had the gun on him and there was no malicious intent involved.

"We agree with Kribs that '[m]ere forgetfulness does not satisfy the knowledge or intent requirement set out by the statute,'" wrote the chief judge.

"The trial court observed the witnesses, weighed the evidence, and concluded that Kribs was unaware he had the handgun in his possession when he entered the airport and placed it on the x-ray conveyor belt."

The state failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Kribs knowingly or intentionally possessed the handgun at the time of the events in question.

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