While the Indiana Court of Appeals unanimously agreed a defendant charged with possessing drugs within 1,000 feet of a school only has the burden of placing the issue of statutory defense in question where the state's evidence hasn't done so, the court split in affirming the defendant's possession conviction.
In Reynaldo A. Griffin v. State of Indiana, No. 71A03-0805-CR-260, Reynaldo Griffin was on foot when he was stopped in front of a school by a police officer who suspected the moped he was pushing was stolen. The officer discovered crack cocaine beneath the moped where Griffin stopped it. He was convicted of possession of cocaine within 1,000 feet of school property, a Class D felony enhanced because he was near a school; Griffin argued pursuant to Indiana Code Section 34-48-4-16(b) in his defense that he was only briefly near the school and there were no children present.
The appellate court applied the ruling in Adkins v. State, 887 N.E.2d 934 (Ind. 2008), and ruled Indiana Code Section 34-48-4-16(b) constitutes a mitigating factor that reduces culpability and therefore a defendant doesn't have the burden of proof but only the burden of placing the issue in question where the state's evidence doesn't do so, wrote Senior Judge John Sharpnack.
"Once the defense is at issue, the State must rebut the defense by proving beyond a reasonable doubt either that the defendant was within 1000 feet of a public park more than 'briefly' or that persons under the age of eighteen at least three years junior to the defendant were within 1000 feet of the school property," wrote the senior judge.
Although there is no "ironclad" rule as to what constitutes as a brief presence by a school, the majority held the jury's determination that Griffin wasn't briefly within 1,000 feet of the school was reasonable under the circumstances of the case. Since the state had sufficient evidence to rebut Griffin's defense, his conviction was affirmed.
Judge Ezra Friedlander dissented only regarding Griffin's conviction. Judge Friedlander wrote that based on the evidence, he would conclude the jury's determination to be unreasonable. The police officer estimated Griffin was in front of the school walking for about five minutes; traveling from 1,000 feet beyond a school can't take much less than five minutes when pushing a moped, the judge wrote. Also, there was no indication that if he hadn't been stopped, Griffin would have been within 1,000 feet of the school any longer than it took him to walk by it. Judge Friedlander would reduce the Class D felony conviction and remand for re-sentencing.