7th Circuit Court of Appeals
Criminal – Child Pornography/Restitution
U.S. v. Christopher L. Laraneta
Two victims who received restitution judgments of $3.367 million and $965,827 must prove the defendant convicted of multiple federal child pornography counts uploaded images of them.
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction and 30-year sentence of the defendant, but the court vacated the restitution order. It said the District Court for the Northern District of Indiana in Hammond must first determine whether Christopher Laraneta uploaded victim images.
Victims referred to in the opinion as Amy and Vicky have received similar judgments “in literally hundreds of other criminal cases involving pornographic images,” Judge Richard Posner wrote for the unanimous panel. The order also barred Amy and Vicky from intervening at the District Court, saying that allowing it would be “a recipe for chaos.”
The victims were 8 and 10 years old when they were repeatedly raped by a relative who photographed the rapes over a two-year period, and the child porn was disseminated online.
“Images of Amy and Vicky were found on (Laraneta’s) computer, true, but he was only one of an unknown number of viewers. Although he was found guilty of distributing child pornography, there is no evidence referred to in the presentence report – and the judge made no finding – that he distributed any of the images involving Amy or Vicky,” Posner wrote.
“To summarize: The defendant’s prison sentence is affirmed. The calculation of the crime victims’ losses is affirmed too, except that the judge must determine how much to subtract from Amy’s losses to reflect payments of restitution that she has received in other cases. The order of restitution is vacated and the case remanded for a redetermination of the amount of restitution owed by the defendant; that will require, besides the subtraction we just mentioned, a determination whether the defendant uploaded any of Amy’s or Vicky’s images,” Posner wrote.
“The defendant will not be permitted to seek contribution from other defendants convicted of crimes involving pornographic images of the two girls. And Amy and Vicky will not be permitted to intervene in the district court.”
Criminal – Extortion/Bribery
United States of America v. Lincoln Plowman
The sentence of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department major and city-county counselor convicted last year for attempted extortion and bribery for his role in trying to get zoning approval for a proposed strip club has been upheld by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Lincoln Plowman claimed that he should have been allowed to argue entrapment to the jury, which the District Court precluded.
While on the Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council in 2009, Plowman was chairman of the committee that oversees zoning in the county and city. During this time, the FBI set up a sting operation based on Plowman’s reputation for his “questionable use of the power and influence he had acquired,” according to the 7th Circuit opinion. The FBI undercover officer posed as strip club owner who wanted to open a club in Indianapolis. During their meetings, Plowman told the undercover officer that for “a couple bucks” he knew how to “push” the strip club through the board of zoning appeals. He sought $5,000 in cash and a contribution to his campaign.
The two met over the course of several months, and when the FBI entered the room during one of their meetings, the agents didn’t arrest him. He retired from the police force in March 2010. In September 2010, a federal grand jury indicted him with federal funds bribery and attempted extortion under color of official right. The government sought to preclude Plowman from presenting an entrapment defense. Judge Larry McKinney refused to issue an entrapment instruction to the jury as Plowman wanted, and he granted the government’s motion in limine. Plowman was convicted in September 2011.
The transcripts of Plowman’s conversations with the undercover FBI agent “overwhelmingly show that Plowman was not entrapped into accepting the bribe,” Judge Daniel Manion wrote.
The 7th Circuit held that McKinney correctly concluded that there was insufficient evidence that the government induced Plowman to accept the bribe, and at no time did the undercover agent mislead Plowman into thinking that Plowman was performing a legal business service.
“The FBI conducted a standard sting operation that did not induce Plowman to accept a bribe. To argue entrapment to a jury, Plowman needed to provide sufficient evidence of both inducement and a lack of predisposition, but he failed to establish the first element,” Manion wrote.
Criminal – DNA Testing/Statute of Limitations
United States of America v. William Hagler
A northern Indiana man’s conviction for attempted bank robbery stands after the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals found the five-year statute of limitations to bring the charge began tolling under an exception involving DNA testing.
William Hagler and his brother Shawn stole a car and attempted to rob a bank in Woodburn, Ind., in 2000. They wore gloves and masks during the attempted robbery. When they discovered they couldn’t open the bank vault, they fled empty handed. Police later found the stolen car with some items the two wore during the robbery and tested them for DNA evidence. At the time, no definitive hits came up.
But when the Indiana State Police upgraded its DNA testing equipment in 2008, it retested the evidence, which led to a hit on Hagler. A print in the car matched Hagler as did a sample taken from a mask in the car. He and his brother were indicted in July 2010 and Hagler was convicted of attempted robbery. His brother’s case is still pending.
The judges focused on an exception outlined in 18 U.S.C. 3297 indicating in cases of DNA testing that implicates an identified person in the commission of a felony, the five-year statute of limitations begins when that testing is performed. Hagler argued that because DNA testing was done sometime in 2002, he had to be indicted by 2007; the government claimed that the clock didn’t start until the 2008 test that specifically identified Hagler. The judges agreed with the government’s argument.
The 7th Circuit found no excessive pretrial delay, as Hagler argued, and that the evidence was sufficient to support his conviction. The bank provided evidence through an FDIC insurance certificate and an employee’s testimony to show it was federally protected at the time of the attempted robbery. In addition, the trial court didn’t abuse its discretion in not granting Hagler’s motion for a new trial based on his claim that DNA testing in 2011 showed inconclusive matches on clothing found in the getaway car.
Hagler’s fingerprint was found inside the car and his DNA was found inside of it, Judge Michael Kanne wrote, which is powerful evidence against him.
Indiana Court of Appeals
Small Claims – Wages
John Fox v. Nichter Construction Co., Inc.
A worker who left employment at a Columbus construction company may pursue his wage claim in court after his complaint had been assigned to the Indiana Department of Labor, a divided panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.
A Bartholomew Superior Court ruling dismissed it with prejudice on the basis that the court lacked jurisdiction because John Fox had assigned his claim to the DOL in 2010. The agency has changed procedures and as of this year no longer requires that wage complaints be assigned to the department, the court noted.
The trial court denied Fox’s motion to correct error when he received a referral letter from the DOL. In its nonbinding administrative review, the DOL had found he was “ineligible to receive vacation payout,” but the letter said he could file suit.
“We reverse the trial court’s order and remand this matter to the trial court with instructions to enter an order that Fox’s claim is dismissed without prejudice under Indiana Trial Rule 12(B)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, including the failure to name the real party in interest,” Judge James Kirsch wrote in an opinion joined by Judge Edward Najam. “Thus, Fox may proceed to refile his claim setting forth the reassignment by the DOL.”
Judge Melissa May dissented and would affirm the trial court.
“Fox chose to pursue his wage claim through the Wage Claim statute, and not the Wage Payment statute. That choice had the effect of precluding any future judicial action because he assigned his claim to the DOL and sought a resolution through the DOL,” May wrote.
The DOL no longer requiring assignment of claims is “a helpful step toward clarifying the procedures by which a voluntarily-separated employee may pursue wage claims,” she wrote, but said Quimby v. Becovic Mgmt Group, Inc., 946 N.E.2d 30, 33-34 (Ind. Ct. App. 2011), controls the Fox case.
“Both Fox and Quimby were voluntarily-separated employees who chose to pursue their claims through the DOL, and the DOL obtained a resolution in both instances. In light of the DOL’s policies and procedures in place at the time of their claims, both parties were, therefore, precluded from a second bite at the proverbial apple,” she wrote.
Criminal – Fourth Amendment
Derek Clanton v. State of Indiana
The stop, search and subsequent discovery of drugs violated the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches even though the police officer was off duty at the time of the incident, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled.
The COA concluded the trial court erred in admitting the cocaine into evidence because the arresting officer was not entitled to the further search that led to the discovery of the narcotics. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment of the trial court.
Derek Clanton was stopped and searched at an apartment complex by off-duty police officer Michael Price who was working part-time as a security officer. During the pat down of Clanton, Price felt a sharp object in his front pocket, removed it and found it was a pen cap. Inside the cap, he saw a plastic bag and upon closer examination discovered the cocaine.
Clanton was arrested and subsequently found guilty of possession of cocaine as a Class D felony. He appealed on the grounds that the cocaine should not have been admitted into evidence because the officer’s seizure violated his constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.
The state contended the Fourth Amendment was not implicated by Price’s action because he was off duty. In disagreeing, the court held that the nature of his actions were consistent with his law enforcement training. Although the officer was off duty and on private property, the Fourth Amendment protections do apply to the stop and frisk he initiated.
Consequently, the discovery of the cocaine violated Clanton’s right prohibiting unreasonable searches because Price admitted he had to make a closer examination of the bag before he realized it contained the drug.
Judge Cale Bradford concurred the search was subject to Fourth Amendment protections but dissented that the stop and search were a violation of constitutional rights.
Affirming the trial court’s judgment, Bradford argued, “The fact that Officer Price did not know exactly which drug was stored in the plastic does not, in my view, render his removal of the plastic and subsequent seizure of the drugs found within unreasonable.”
Criminal – Child Abuse Reporting
Marybeth Lebo v. State of Indiana
A high school coach’s failure to report child abuse is a continuing offense to which the statute of limitations does not apply, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.
The COA affirmed the trial court’s denial of a motion to dismiss the charges.
Marybeth Lebo, who was the varsity volleyball coach at LaPorte High School, was charged with failing to report child abuse after her assistant coach, Robert Ashcraft, was convicted of multiple sex crimes against a minor student athlete. In her appeal, she argues, in part, the charges are barred by the statute of limitations.
As an alternative, the state argued that the crime of failure to report is a continuing offense. Therefore, the statute of limitations did not begin to run until Oct. 23, 2010, when the LaPorte County Prosecutor’s Office received the investigation report from the Indiana State Police.
The court agreed. Despite the absence of the terms “continuing” or “continuous,” the statute does state that the obligation to report is not relieved until a report has been made to the best of the individual’s belief.
Writing for the majority, Judge Cale Bradford stated, “To permit an individual with a duty to report to avoid prosecution for failure to report because that individual’s failure was not discovered within 730 days does nothing to protect a child who may still be the victim of abuse on day 731 or beyond.”
In a separate opinion, Judge John Baker dissented from the majority’s view that the Legislature indicated a clear intent to make failure to report child abuse or neglect a continuing offense. He found that any intent of the Legislature is ambiguous.
“I am sensitive to the fact that if someone fails to make a report, child abuse or neglect could continue for every day that the report goes unmade,” Baker wrote. “However, we must also be reminded that the person who has ‘reason to believe’ that child abuse or neglect has occurred and fails to report that abuse or neglect is not the person inflicting harm on the child. Yet the statute of limitations does not fail to apply to those who commit heinous crimes against children.”
Protective Order – Attorney Fees
Richard Troy Dunno v. Ronalee Rasmussen
A man who claims he was struck by a vodka bottle that resulted in 18 stitches won’t have to pay attorney fees to a woman against whom he had been awarded a protective order, the Court of Appeals ruled, reversing a lower court order.
Richard Troy Dunno was granted a protective order on Dec. 22, 2011, a day after he told an Allen Superior magistrate that Ronalee Rasmussen hit him with the bottle. The P.O. was issued ex parte.
Dunno failed to appear at a hearing in February at which time the order was dismissed. Rasmussen presented evidence that she wasn’t the person responsible for the offense and asked the court for attorney fees, which were granted in the sum of $500. Prior to the appeal, Dunno’s motions to correct error at the trial court failed.
“Dunno argues that ‘[a]llowing the trial court to award attorney fees against someone petitioning for a protective order would undoubtedly have a chilling effect and cause some victims of domestic violence to forgo making a legitimate plea for protection,’” Judge Elaine Brown wrote for the unanimous panel. “Dunno also claims that the record does not support an attorney fee assessment under Ind. Code § 34-52-1-1(b).”
Finding that his claim was not frivolous or in bad faith, “We conclude that Dunno has made a prima facie showing that the award of attorney fees was improper,” Brown wrote. “We reverse the trial court’s judgment ordering Dunno to pay Rasmussen’s attorney fees.”
Criminal – Jurors
Romero Leslie v. State of Indiana
A defendant who argued that a Marion Superior Court should have dismissed a juror after she stood near the defendant and his attorney briefly during a recess, but should not have replaced the juror who claimed she wasn’t comfortable rendering a decision, lost before the Court of Appeals.
Romero Leslie appealed his conviction of Class B felony dealing in cocaine, arguing fundamental error by the trial court when it denied his request to dismiss juror Kim Shiflette. During a recess, Shiflette left the jury room unaccompanied in search of the bailiff and stood in a hallway near Leslie and his attorney for about 10 seconds before Leslie and his attorney saw her and stopped talking. The two were discussing trial strategy.
After a lengthy discussion with the court, Master Commissioner Peggy R. Hart allowed Shiflette to stay on the jury. Leslie did not object. Shiflette said she did not hear the conversation between Leslie and his attorney. But on appeal, he argued Hart committed fundamental error by allowing Shiflette to remain a juror.
There was no direct contact between Shiflette and Leslie or his attorney, and she said she didn’t recognize the defendant or his lead attorney in the hallway, Judge Edward Najam wrote.
Leslie also claimed on appeal Hart should not have replaced Kermetha Brown with an alternate juror over his objection. Shortly after deliberations began, Brown wrote the court a note saying she was not comfortable deciding whether Leslie is guilty. Brown repeatedly told Hart that she was uncomfortable making a decision and she couldn’t render a decision.
The trial court determined that Brown’s inability to make a decision as a juror affected the integrity of the process, Najam wrote, and Leslie didn’t show how replacing her prejudiced the deliberations of the rest of the panel or impaired his right to a trial by jury.
Civil Plenary – Insurance/Negligent Work
Kirstan Haub, d/b/a American Handyman Service v. Jenny Eldridge
Finding the Clark Circuit Court erred in considering parol evidence when denying a remodeler’s motion for summary judgment, the Indiana Court of Appeals found the lower court should grant his motion on a lawsuit brought by a client for negligently performing work on her home.
Jenny Eldridge hired Kirstan Haub’s company American Handyman Service to do work and renovation projects around her home. At one point, he severed a gas line on her property and also did not refinish Eldridge’s hardwood floors properly. Haub sought to have his insurer, Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance, cover the cost for the work on the floors, but his insurer found the policy excluded coverage for defects in workmanship.
Eldrige later hired an attorney, who sought to settle with IFBI for the additional costs that Eldridge claimed she had to pay for work that was performed in a “negligent and unworkmanlike manner.”
Although her claims typically wouldn’t be covered by Haub’s insurance, a representative offered Eldridge $3,500 if Eldridge would sign a release of all claims against Haub and his company. She signed it and received the check.
But after the settlement, she sued Haub over the negligent work and property damage. Haub sought summary judgment, citing the release Eldridge signed. In her response, Eldridge designated as evidence a letter that her attorney allegedly sent to the IFBI representative that said her acceptance of the settlement wouldn’t preclude her claim against Haub for defective or incomplete work. The insurance company never received the letter.
Clark Circuit Special Judge Susan L. Orth cited the letter in her decision to deny Haub’s motion for summary judgment. The Court of Appeals reversed, finding the language of the release to be unambiguous in that it prevents Eldridge from bringing any suit for the work at issue in the settlement and that Orth erred in considering parol evidence. The appellate court ordered the trial court to enter summary judgment in favor of Haub.•