Felony conviction affirmed based on ‘into’ definition

November 17, 2016

A bullet that pierces a home’s siding is considered to be “into” the dwelling, the Indiana Court of Appeals decided Thursday in upholding a South Bend man’s criminal recklessness conviction.

Gabriel Williams and Judy VanHouten were sitting in a car parked behind a residence in South Bend when Williams shot his gun from inside the vehicle at around 3 a.m. Oct. 9, 2014. Police responded to an alert from their ShotSpotter system, which detects the sound of gunfire, and found the two in the car. Williams told officers he was shooting at a raccoon.

The bullet went into and through vinyl siding on the corner of one house, ricocheted and then lodged in the siding of a second story of a home across the street. Both homes were occupied at the time.

Williams was charged with three counts, including criminal recklessness as a Level 5 felony because he shot the firearm into an inhabited dwelling as defined under I.C. 35-42-2-2(b)(2)(A).

“Clearly, firing a pistol at a raccoon, a garbage can, or a house in a residential area is reckless behavior. The challenge here is to determine what constitutes ‘into’ for purposes of the criminal recklessness statute,” Senior Judge John Sharpnack wrote.  

Williams wanted the judges to use the Merriam Webster definition of “into,” and contends that to be guilty of the offense, the bullet must have entered into the living area of the house second house, not merely striking it. But the judges rejected his construction of the statute as too narrow.

The house’s siding delineates the boundary of the dwelling, and an object on the outer side of that boundary is outside the dwelling, while an object that is on the inner side of that boundary is “into” the dwelling, Sharpnack wrote.

“The extent to which a bullet penetrates the dwelling is a matter of degree, but is ‘into’ the dwelling, nonetheless. This plain reading of the statute supports obvious policy considerations behind the statute — protecting from the risk of injury due to gunfire those who might be present in an inhabited dwelling or other building or place where people are likely to gather,” he wrote.

“To reverse based upon the degree to which the bullet entered the building would be to reweigh the evidence, a task that is inappropriate upon appellate review.”

The case is Gabriel G. Williams v. State of Indiana, 71A03-1604-CR-975.


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