COA upholds attorney’s criminal trespass conviction

An attorney’s attempt to overturn his criminal trespass conviction by arguing the state statute is unconstitutional as applied to leased property was rejected by the Indiana Court of Appeals as failing to convince even a “person of ordinary intelligence.”

Decatur attorney Joseph Johnson III was arrested and convicted of criminal trespass, a Class A misdemeanor, for showing up at his former girlfriend’s apartment on April 6, 2014, after she told him to leave her alone. He arrived crying and was saying he “wanted to explain the life he could provide for her.” He refused her dozen requests that he leave until she called police.

On appeal, Johnson asserted that the state’s criminal trespass statute, Indiana Code 35-42-2-2, only applied to unwelcomed incursions on real property, not leaseholds like his girlfriend’s apartment. In addition, he contended he never crossed the apartment’s threshold or attempted to enter the residence.

A unanimous Court of Appeals ruled Johnson’s claim failed. It affirmed Johnson’s conviction in Joseph M. Johnson III v. State of Indiana, 01A02-1501-CR-25.

In an opinion written by Judge Ezra Friedlander, the court found Johnson stood in the threshold of his former girlfriend’s apartment which prevented her from shutting her door.

She “had a sufficient possessory interest in her apartment door, the threshold to the door, and common area immediately adjacent to her door such as to possess authority to request that Johnson leave those areas and stop harassing her,” Friedlander wrote. Consequently, a “person of ordinary intelligence would have no difficulty” finding Johnson’s behavior violated the state’s trespassing statute.

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