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Majority: 2 shoplifting charges not RICO violations

June 30, 2016

The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled in a split decision the state went too far when it convicted a man who committed two acts of shoplifting under the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and reversed his conviction for corrupt business influence.

Charles Robinson walked into a Shelbyville Walmart with his fiancée Deborah Hill on Jan. 25, 2015, selected a home security system camera and after disposing of the box in the men’s apparel section, walked out with the camera. On Feb. 17, Robinson tried the same plan again, but this time was foiled by Walmart security.

The state charged Robinson with two counts of Class A misdemeanor theft and two counts of Level 6 felony theft based on Robinson’s prior theft convictions. He was also charged with one count of Level 5 corrupt business influence. Robinson moved to sever the trial of the theft charges from the corrupt business influence charge, but the trial court denied the motion. Robinson was found guilty of misdemeanor thefts and corrupt business influence. The trial court merged all four theft charges into the corrupt business influence charge and sentenced him on just that charge.

Noting that there is no evidence of any kind of “criminal enterprise” or increasing sophistication of his crimes, the COA majority of Judges Margret Robb and Michael Barnes, who wrote the decision, ruled the state overreached when convicting Robinson of a RICO violation. There was no evidence of planning, no evidence of accomplices or that Barnes’ fiancée was aware of Robinson’s actions, and no evidence that Robinson is a “criminal mastermind,” Barnes wrote.

“We simply do not believe the commission of two acts of shoplifting of this type is the kind of activity our legislature meant to be covered by our RICO statute,” Barnes wrote. “… Robinson, while no saint, does not fit the definition of someone involved with any kind of organized crime. He is no Lucky Luciano.”

He wrote the state was off-target “both legally and practically by attempting to elevate a two-time shoplifter to the status of a Carlo Gambino.”

The COA also ruled that the trial court was right to deny Robinson’s severance petition.

Judge Robert R. Altice Jr. dissented in the case in part. While he agreed with the denial of Robinson’s severance petition and that the state produced enough evidence to convict Robinson of theft, he thought there was enough evidence to convict Robinson of a RICO violation.

Altice disagreed that Robinson’s two shoplifting charges were not serious enough to rise to the level of a RICO violation, noting the plain language of the statute.

“Moreover, the provision of the RICO Act under which Robinson was charged does not require that he act in concert with others in any sort of criminal enterprise. If the legislature wished to limit the reach of the RICO Act to more sophisticated criminals and members of organized crime syndicates like Lucky Luciano or Carlo Gambino, it could easily have done so,” Altice wrote.

The majority remanded the case for the trial court to enter a sentence for two counts of Level 6 felony theft instead.

The case is Charles Robinson v. State of Indiana, 73A01-1506-CR-750.

 

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