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COA reverses felony conviction for lack of evidence

May 22, 2015

The state did not prove that a St. Joseph County man intimidated another person when the man pulled out a knife after being confronted about stealing water, the Indiana Court of Appeals held Friday. The dissenting judge believed there to be no distinction between the defendant being “caught” stealing water and “confronting” the defendant about stealing it.

The state charged Leonard Blackmon with Level 5 felony intimidation, alleging “Blackmon did communicate a threat to another person, with the intent that said other person be placed in fear of retaliation for a prior lawful act, to-wit; Leonard Blackmon threatened to cut Donald Courtway with a knife, after Donald Courtway caught Leonard Blackmon stealing water.”

Courtway was at his daughter’s house when he heard running water and saw a bucket under an outside spigot, which had been locked, but the lock was removed. He confronted his daughter’s neighbor because he knew she did not have running water. After the neighbor agreed to pay for the water, Courtway said he was going to call the police. Then Blackmon, who was with the neighbor at the time Courtway confronted her, pulled out a knife and brandished it.

“Here, the State presented no evidence that Courtway caught Blackmon stealing water nor did it present any evidence that Blackmon believed he had been caught stealing water. Courtway did not testify that he believed Blackmon would retaliate because he had been caught stealing water. Courtway testified that Blackmon said nothing prior to drawing the knife. It was not until after Courtway threatened to call the police that Blackmon drew the knife,” Judge John Baker wrote. “While this may have been evidence that Blackmon intended to stop Courtway from calling the police and thereby intended to make Courtway engage in conduct against his will – a crime under Indiana Code section 35-45-2-1(a)(1) – this was not how the charge was brought. Consequently, we are compelled to conclude that the State failed to present sufficient evidence to prove that Blackmon intended to put Courtway in fear of retaliation for having caught him stealing water –an essential element of the crime as it was charged.”

Judge Cale Bradford took issue with the majority’s differentiating between the charging information using the word “caught” and what they said Courtway actually did, which was confront Blackmon because Courtway did not see Blackmon actually stealing the water.

“I find it inconsequential that Courtway did not know affirmatively that it was Blackmon, specifically, who had stolen the water considering the circumstantial evidence that indicated as much. In fact, the victim’s subjective knowledge is irrelevant under Indiana’s intimidation statute so long as the victim’s prior act was lawful. Regardless of Courtway’s knowledge, Blackmon seems to have been of the mind that he had been caught and reacted aggressively. As such, I think it was reasonable for the jury to find that Blackmon threatened Courtway in retaliation for the prior lawful act of catching Blackmon stealing water,” Bradford wrote.

The case is Leonard Blackmon v. State of Indiana, 71A03-1411-CR-413.  
 

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