A St. Joseph County man charged with multiple counts of forgery after falsifying signatures on an election ballot petition for Barack Obama in 2008 was not prejudiced when the state was allowed to amend the charging information at the end of his trial. But, the Indiana Court of Appeals held the evidence only supports convicting him of one count of forgery, not nine.
Dustin Blythe and three others were charged in 2012 after officials accused them of forging signatures on petitions to get Democratic presidential candidates on the primary ballot. Blythe was employed by the St. Joseph County Voter Registration Office at the time he allegedly falsified the ballot petitions.
Blythe faced nine counts of Class C forgery and one count of Class D felony falsely making a petition of nomination. The state alleged that he knowingly uttered a written instrument that purported to have been made by another person or by authority of one who did not give authority, by forging signatures on the election ballot petitions. Blythe’s defense focused on the term “uttered” and his attorney argued based on the definition, he did not do any of the things included under that definition.
After Blythe presented his defense, the prosecution moved to amend the charging information to instead say Blythe knowingly “made or uttered” the written instrument. Blythe argued allowing the change would prejudice him or require a new trial, but the judge allowed the amendment. Blythe was convicted as charged.
In Dustin Blythe v. State of Indiana, 71A03-1306-CR-228, the Court of Appeals found no error by the trial court in allowing the state to make the late change to the charging information. Judge Elaine Brown pointed out that the defense Blythe presented would have been the same if the change had been made before trial. He was able to present an appropriate defense to the amended charges, “and in fact did so from the commencement of his trial,” she wrote.
But the trial court did err when it denied his motion on the judgment with respect to forger counts II through IX. The evidence supports just one conviction of forgery because the falsified signatures were placed on ballot petitions during a relatively short period of time in the county and the placement of the falsified signatures was performed for a single purpose.
The judges ordered eight of his forgery counts vacated, as well as his conviction of Class D felony falsely making a petition of nomination because that is a factually lesser-included offense of the forgeries alleged in counts I through IX.