Pulling a switcheroo leads to felony conviction

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A man who switched seats to help a friend failed to convince the Indiana Court of Appeals that he unknowingly put himself in the hot seat.

Brandan Jones was charged and convicted of assisting a criminal, a Class D felony. An Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officer pulled over Jones’ friend Bennie Stigler, and the officer observed Jones was a passenger in the vehicle.

Returning to his patrol car to check Stigler’s identification, the officer discovered Stigler’s driver’s license had been suspended for life. However, when the officer went back to Stigler’s vehicle to make an arrest, he found Jones sitting in the driver’s seat and Stigler in the passenger seat.

On appeal, Jones argued that to convict him of a felony for assisting a criminal, the state had to prove not only that Stigler committed a felony but also that Jones knew his friend was committing a felony.  

The state responded that assisting a criminal automatically becomes a felony regardless of the assisting party’s knowledge of the underlying offense.

The Court of Appeals agreed, finding the state presented sufficient evidence to support a guilty verdict in Brandan Jones v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1406-CR-383.

In reviewing the statute, Indiana Code 35-44.1-2-5, the Court of Appeals found the language to be “clear and unambiguous.” The statute contains no requirement that the person assisting the criminal must have knowledge of the felony the assisted person has committed or even if a felony has been committed at all.

 “We doubt that the General Assembly intended to limit liability for assisting a criminal to cases in which the assisting party possessed such knowledge because such a requirement would allow assisting individuals to skirt the boundaries of the law by purposely remaining ignorant of the details of the assisted party’s crimes while providing assistance in escaping apprehension or punishment,” Judge Ezra Friedlander wrote for the court.

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