Indiana Court of Appeals
Criminal – Drugs/Search
Mario Deon Watkins v. State of Indiana
A “military-style assault” on an Evansville home was unreasonable, a divided Indiana Court of Appeals held, reversing a man’s various felony and misdemeanor drug convictions.
Evansville Police Detective Chris Goergen received a tip about cocaine, marijuana and a firearm at a residence in Evansville from a confidential informant, who confirmed through a photo that Mario Deon Watkins was the individual he saw inside the residence. In December 2014, Goergen completed an affidavit for a search warrant alleging that drugs and other evidence were being concealed at the home, and the Vanderburgh Circuit Court issued a search warrant.
At least one dozen officers were involved in the SWAT team search of the home, most of whom were armed with assault weapons. At 10:30 a.m. police knocked on the door and announced themselves, and one second later, the SWAT team knocked the door down with a battering ram.
Officer Jacob Taylor deployed a flash bang, a diversionary device that emits a bright flash and loud bang, and discovered that there was a 9-month-old baby in the room. The baby was removed from the home as officers smashed in the kitchen window and deployed another flash bang.
Detective Michael Gray found Watkins lying on a bed and detained him with no resistance. The SWAT team found narcotics, marijuana, a digital scale, a cut corner baggie, cocaine and handgun in the home.
Watkins was then charged with felonies dealing in a schedule II controlled substance, dealing in cocaine in the presence of a minor, unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon, dealing in a schedule IV controlled substance, dealing in marijuana, maintaining a common nuisance and neglect of a dependent.
Watkins moved to suppress in March 2015, arguing that the seizure of the items was without lawful authority because the search warrant was invalid, the manner of the search and execution of the warrant violated his federal and state constitutional rights and that the affidavit did not establish probable cause.
The court denied Watkins’ motion to suppress, and the state filed a motion in limine arguing that evidence from a GoPro mounted on Taylor’s helmet showing that the flash bang was deployed in the same room as the baby would be “objectionable, highly prejudicial, and irrelevant.” While the court found that the means of entry into the home and the location of the individuals, including the baby, was relevant, it also found that evidence of the use of the flash bang had little or no relevance and would be more prejudicial than probative.
Watkins was found guilty of all lesser-included offenses except the possession of a firearm and neglect counts, which were dismissed. He appealed, again arguing that evidence discovered as a result of the “military-style assault” search was inadmissible because police used unreasonable force, there was little evidence that the case was a high-risk entry and that the video evidence contradicted Taylor’s testimony that he peeked into the room before deploying the grenade.
Applying the factors of Litchfield v. State, 824 N.E.2d 356, 361 (Ind. 2005), Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Elaine Brown wrote that the degree of intrusion was indeed a “military-style assault,” noting that the front door was “barely opened” when the flash bang was deployed and the angle at which Taylor was standing did not allow him to see inside.
Further, Brown wrote that concerning the degree of law enforcement needs, “The record contains no evidence that law enforcement could not have safely presented the person matching Watkins’ description with the search warrant.” Thus, Brown wrote for the divided appellate panel that the search violated Watkins’ protections under Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution.
Brown also rejected the state’s suggestion to adopt the inevitable discovery exception as a matter of Indiana constitutional law because the Indiana Supreme Court has held that “our state constitution mandates that the evidence found as a result of (an unconstitutional) search be suppressed.”
The appellate panel reversed Watkins’ convictions, but Judge Melissa May dissented, writing in a separate opinion that she would hold the search of Watkins’ residence was reasonable under the totality of the circumstances.
Civil Plenary – APRA/Lawsuit
William Groth v. Mike Pence as Governor of the State of Indiana
A divided Indiana Court of Appeals sided with former Indiana Gov. and Vice President-elect Mike Pence in an opinion, writing that Pence was within his discretion to redact and withhold certain documents sought through a public records request. Read more on page 4.
Civil Plenary – Arbitration Agreement
Paul and Michelle Riley v. AAA Automotive, LLC, d/b/a/ 3A Automotive
The Indiana Court of Appeals vacated an arbitration award after determining that an arbitration agreement did not exist, thus making the arbitration proceedings between a Lake County couple and an automotive company pointless.
3A Automotive bought a Dodge Durango and agreed to sell it to Paul and Michelle Riley for $15,095, subject to the procurement of financing. The Rileys paid $500 as a down payment and took possession of the Durango in December 2013.
When the couple didn’t comply with requests to make a bigger down payment or trade in another vehicle, 3A Automotive demanded that they return the car and filed a complaint for breach of contract and conversion in May 2014. 3A sought judgment of $14,000 or the return of the Durango with compensation. However, the complaint did not include a demand for arbitration.
After 3A filed a motion for a temporary restraining order, the Lake Superior Court held a hearing and ordered that the auto company deposit the $500 down payment with the court clerk and that the Rileys return the vehicle. Both parties eventually complied.
Then, the Rileys filed a counterclaim alleging that “the procurement of financing was part of the consideration to be provided by the seller.” Further, the couple argued that 3A did not have a marketable title to sell the Durango because it had a lien on it held by Next Gear Capital and because the information on the title read “Non-Transferable.” Thus, any contract 3A had with the couple was null and void.
The trial court then entered an order referring the case to mediation. However, mediation failed, so the court then ordered the parties to complete arbitration. At an arbitration hearing in June 2015, an arbitration award was rendered in favor of 3A for roughly $14,500, consisting mostly of attorney’s fees.
The Rileys moved to correct error, asking for the award to be vacated because the arbitrator had “applied a Federal standard to a State case and committed reversible error.” The trial court denied the couple’s motion, so they subsequently appealed.
The Indiana Court of Appeals sided with the Rileys, noting that “it does not appear that arbitration was ordered based upon the failed sales contract; rather, it appears to have arisen in alternative dispute resolution.”
“Even assuming a proper arbitration order, without an agreement, we cannot definitely discern whether the arbitrator exceeded his authority as to substantive provisions,” Indiana Court of Appeals Judge L. Mark Bailey wrote for the unanimous panel. “However, the lack of impartial and fair proceedings is evident.
“There is no evidence of an arbitration agreement in the record and, hence, no evidence that there was a meeting of the minds concerning the scope and terms of the arbitration,” Bailey continued. “Thus, the arbitration proceedings were for naught, and the judgment on the arbitration award must be vacated.”
Criminal – RFRA/Taxes
Rodney Tyms-Bey v. State of Indiana
A divided Indiana Court of Appeals ruled that a Marion County man cannot avoid paying income taxes using a religious freedom defense, with the majority writing that the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act allows for the collection of taxes in the furtherance of a compelling government interest.
In 2013, Rodney Tyms-Bey was notified that the Indiana Department of Revenue had determined that he had falsely reported his income and eligible tax deductions in 2012 and owed the state $1,042.82. He responded with paperwork claiming that he was a “sovereign citizen” and also declaring himself an estate and, thus, did not subsequently amend his tax return or pay the outstanding balance.
The following year, Tyms-Bey was charged with three counts of felony tax evasion, each as Class D felonies, but on July 1, 2015, the date RFRA took effect, he filed a notice of defense of religious freedom. The state moved to strike the defense and at a related hearing, Tyms-Bey refused to identify what religious practice was burdened by the state’s actions. Instead, he said he was entitled to present his case to a jury.
The Marion Superior Court granted the motion to strike and Tyms-Bey appealed. But a divided Indiana Court of Appeals rejected Tyms-Bey’s RFRA argument, with Judge John Baker writing for the majority that the defendant could never raise a successful RFRA defense.
Baker and Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik, who concurred with the majority, based their opinion on the United States Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Lee, 455 U.S. 252, 258-61 (1982), which held that “(b)ecause the broad public interest in maintaining a sound tax system is of such a high order, religious belief in conflict with the payment of taxes affords no basis for resisting the tax.”
Baker noted that a statutory exception to RFRA allows the government to substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion if the burden furthers a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of doing so.
“We adopt the analysis of the Lee Court and hold as a matter of law that, in the context of Indiana’s RFRA, there is a compelling governmental interest in collecting income tax revenue,” Baker wrote. “There are no facts that Tyms-Bey could proffer with respect to his exercise of religion that would not be overcome by the State’s compelling interest and the means used by the State in furthering that interest.”
But Judge Edward Najam, writing in a dissenting opinion that was nearly twice as long as the majority’s, wrote that although “Tyms-Bey’s alleged RFRA defense may ultimately not succeed, he is entitled to his day in court.”
“(I)n enacting Indiana’s RFRA, our legislature explicitly reserved to itself, and withheld from our judiciary, the right to declare categorical exemptions from RFRA’s application,” Najam wrote. “The majority’s holding disregards that command and categorically removes tax-based actions from RFRA’s application.”
Rather than Lee, Najam wrote that Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 134 S.Ct. 2751, 2761-62 (2014) is a better reflection of the Indiana Legislature’s intent when enacting RFRA.
“And this is significant here because, as Burwell explains, RFRA demands a fact-sensitive, ‘particularized’ assessment of the claimed religious exemption, while Lee does not,” he said.
Domestic Relation – Visitation/Extended Family
In Re: the Grandparent Visitation of G.S., J.S. v. M.S.
Courts do not have the authority to force parents to allow their children to have contact with members of their extended family, aside from grandparents, the Indiana Court of Appeals decided.
After M.S. committed suicide in May 2015, J.S., his ex-wife, began to curtail the time their child, G.S., spent with her paternal relatives. J.S. had a particular issue with M.L., a paternal aunt with whom G.S. had been close, and did not want G.S. to spend time with her any longer.
However, M.L. lived with M.S., the grandmother, so J.S. required visits with the grandmother to occur outside of the home. However, M.S. had medical concerns that made leaving her home difficult, so she filed a petition for grandparent visitation in June 2015. But three months later, J.S. and G.S. moved to Tennessee because the mother received a promotion, significantly cutting down on the child’s contact with her paternal relatives.
The trial court granted the grandmother’s visitation petition in August 2016, ordering one visit per month for at least six hours at a time. Additionally, the court held all visitations between the grandmother and grandchild could be held in M.S.’s home, other residents of the home, including the aunt, were not required to leave during the visits, and other family members were allowed to be present either in-person or over the phone during the visits.
J.S. appealed only the portion of the order mandating that her child be permitted to visit and have contact with paternal relatives other than the grandmother.
The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed with the mother, with Judge John Baker writing for the unanimous panel that, “The General Assembly has seen fit to carve out a narrow, limited exception to a parent’s right to raise her children for grandparents. There is no such exception for anyone else, including other relatives.”
“Indeed, we encourage Mother to reconsider her position; considering all that Child has lost in her short life, it seems wise to permit her to maintain contact with anyone and everyone who loves and supports her,” Baker continued. “But while we encourage her to do so, we – and the trial court – are without authority to order her to do so.”
Thus, the appellate panel reversed the portions of the trial court’s order relating to all paternal relatives except for the grandmother.
Juvenile – Restitution
S.S. v. State of Indiana
The Marion Superior Court erred when it ordered a juvenile delinquent to pay restitution to his theft victim after the court noted in its dispositional order that the juvenile offender was unable to pay, the Indiana Court of Appeals found.
In February 2016, the state filed a delinquency petition against S.S. alleging that his act of taking a cellphone from M.H. would constitute Level 3 felony burglary and Level 3 felony robbery resulting in bodily injury if committed by an adult. S.S. agreed to adjudication for an act that would be considered Class A misdemeanor theft and, as part of the admission agreement, agreed to make “(r)estitution for the LG4 Cell Phone, documentation and valuation to be determined (sic) disposition or restitution hearing.”
At a subsequent hearing, the juvenile court attempted to set the issue of restitution for a hearing, but S.S. objected. Instead, the court ordered him to pay $200 “to at least cover some loss of the phone according to the contract.” S.S.’s counsel then presented testimony showing that he was 15 years old, lived with his mother and did not have a job, bank or savings account or property. Thus, S.S. asked the court to find that he was unable to pay.
The trial court decided on the same day to order S.S. to complete 40 hours of a restitution work program and pay the earlier discussed $200. However, the court further noted that “(S.S.’s counsel) requests that the youth be found indigent as he does not have (t)he ability to pay restitution. Court notes same. Court authorizes the release of youth’s documents to the victim for civil litigation.”
S.S. appealed, and the Indiana Court of Appeals found in his favor.
Judge Melissa May, writing for the unanimous panel, said the court noted that S.S. was not able to pay, and the defendant himself presented evidence of his indigency. Thus, the trial court’s order for restitution was an abuse of discretion, May wrote, and the appellate panel ordered the trial court to vacate the portion of the dispositional order dealing with the payment of restitution.•