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COA reverses handgun conviction after state failed to meet burden of proof

December 7, 2016

The state failed to meet its burden of proof to show that an Indianapolis man was carrying a handgun without a license outside of his dwelling, workplace or property, the Court of Appeals found Wednesday, thus vacating the man’s misdemeanor conviction.

In Reginald Webster v. State of Indiana, 49A05-1603-CR-417, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department received an anonymous tip in March 2003 that four people were selling drugs on the front porch of an Indianapolis residence.

When officers Robert Wheeling and Richard Hemphill arrived at the scene, they noticed one of the men, later identified as Reginald Webster, bend over toward the bottom of a couch on the front porch then quickly sit back up. Additionally, the officers noticed another man, later identified as Jason Borenstein, reach over the porch railing and place something shiny in a shrub.

When the officers approached the two men and asked them to stand up, Wheeling conducted a pat-down search of Webster and Hemphill lifted up the couch and found a loaded handgun. Webster did not present the officer with a permit or license to carry the gun, so he was charged with Class A misdemeanor carrying a handgun without a license.

During the trial, Webster moved to suppress the evidence of the handgun, arguing that the anonymous tip was unreliable and that the officers did not have reasonable suspicion to search him. The Marion Superior Court denied the motion, so Webster moved for involuntary dismissal pursuant to Trial Rule 41(B), arguing that the state had failed to prove that he possessed the handgun in a place other than his dwelling, property or place of business, an element of the offense Class A misdemeanor offense. The trial court also denied that motion, and Webster was found guilty as charged.

In his appeal, Webster argued that the trial court clearly erred in denying his motion for involuntary dismissal.  The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed, writing in a Wednesday opinion that the state failed to show that the address where the handgun was found was not Webster’s dwelling, property or fixed place of business.

Judge Terry Crone wrote for the unanimous panel that the Marion Superior Court mistakenly believed that it was Webster’s burden to prove that the home was his dwelling, property or fixed place of business, while it was actually the state’s burden to prove the opposite. Because the state did not meet that burden, the appellate court reversed Webster’s conviction.
 

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