Charges of theft, counterfeiting and corrupt business influence against Houston-based defendants as a result of the sale of airsoft guns in Indiana can proceed in this state, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
In An-Hung Yao and Yu-Ting Lin v. State of Indiana, 35S02-1112-CR-704, the justices affirmed the trial court denial of An-Hung Yao and Yu-Ting Lin’s motions to dismiss the charging informations on jurisdictional grounds and the denial of their motions to dismiss the charging informations alleging three counts each of Class D felonies theft and corrupt business influence. The justices reversed the trial court’s grant of the defendant’s motion to dismiss the charging informations alleging one count each of Class C felony counterfeiting.
Lin operates Generation Guns from Houston, Texas. The company imports from Taiwan and sells in the U.S. “airsoft guns,” toy replicas that look like real guns but shoot lightweight plastic pellets. An-Hug Yao, vice-president of a Houston bank and friend of Lin’s, helped her set up systems for her business and attended trade shows with her. Heckler & Koch Inc. ordered airsoft guns from Lin’s company and had them shipped to Huntington County, Ind. The toys delivered were replicas of guns made by H&K.
On interlocutory appeal, the Court of Appeals concluded that all charges should be dismissed because the trial court lacked territorial jurisdiction.
Justice Robert Rucker wrote that the court couldn’t conclude as a matter of law the defendants engaged in no conduct nor effected any result in Indiana that was an element of either the theft or counterfeiting charge. If the state can’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Lin and Yao engaged in Indiana in any one or more of the forms of exerting control over the property of H&K, then the defendants would be entitled to acquittal or judgment on the evidence.
The justices rejected the defendants’ claim that their airsoft guns can’t constitute a written instrument under the counterfeiting statute because the guns don’t contain any “written matter.” The high court adopted the state’s view of the statute that defines “written instrument” more broadly, which could include an object or symbol of value, right, privilege or identification, even if the object or symbol doesn’t contain writings or markings.
Lin and Yao also argued that it’s not “theoretically possible” to “exert unauthorized control” over a third-party’s trademark right. They also want this case resolved under civil trademark infringement law, not criminal law.
But whether a theft prosecution is the “wrong tool for the job” when it comes to defining intellectual property interests, that is not the justices’ jobs, Rucker wrote. “Rather, our job is to apply the Indiana criminal statutes as drafted by the Legislature. And under those statutes, the questions in this case include whether the Defendants, did beyond a reasonable doubt: 1) knowingly or intentionally; 2) obtain, take, carry, sell, convey, encumber, or possess property, or secure, transfer, or extend a right to property; 3) which property belonged to H & K; 4) without H & K’s consent; 5) with intent to deprive H & K of any part of the property’s value or use? And these are all questions of fact that cannot be determined on a motion to dismiss.”