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Justices affirm reversal of resisting conviction, decline to address related constitutional analysis

October 3, 2017

A man who was convicted of resisting a law enforcement officer will no longer have that conviction on his record after the Indiana Supreme Court affirmed the appellate reversal of his conviction in a Tuesday opinion.

The case of Jefferson Jean-Baptiste v. State of Indiana, 49S02-1707-CR-500, began in April 2016, when Marion County Sheriff’s Deputy James Russo attempted to serve a civil arrest warrant on Jefferson Jean-Baptiste at his residence. Jean-Baptiste refused to comply with the warrant, and after Russo tried to grab his arm, Jean-Baptiste pulled away.

Russo, assuming Jean-Baptiste was resisting arrest, entered the residence and placed Jean-Baptiste in custody. Jean-Baptiste was then convicted of resisting law enforcement, but the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed that conviction in a February opinion. Specifically, the appellate court determined that because Russo was outside the residence while Jean-Baptiste was inside when the deputy, “without permission or legal justification,” reached across the threshold to grab Jean-Baptiste’s arm, the man was justified in his resistance.

The Supreme Court agreed and affirmed the reversal in a two-page per curiam opinion. However, the high court left vacated a sua sponte constitutional analysis the appellate panel made in its February opinion. In that sua sponte analysis, the judges determined the trial court committed fundamental error by denying Jean-Baptiste’s right to a jury trial without first eliciting a personal waiver from him on the record.

The high court did not summarily affirm the constitutional analysis or holding, but instead declined to address it “in keeping with the principle of constitutional avoidance.”

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