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COA tosses some fatal-chase convictions as double jeopardy

October 26, 2017

A man who fled police and killed one person and injured two others during a pursuit will only retain one conviction each of resisting law enforcement and leaving the scene of an accident after the Indiana Court of Appeals found his multiple convictions violated double jeopardy.

In Matthew Edmonds v. State of Indiana, 49A05-1703-CR-400, Beech Grove Police Officers were dispatched to the local Wal-Mart on a report that Matthew Edmonds was shoplifting. When Edmonds saw the police presence, he sped away in his vehicle, leading them on a high-speed, dangerous chase that also involved Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Officers.

During the chase, the officers turned off their lights and sirens on multiple occasions to avoid creating a chase that would be dangerous to the public, yet continued to track Edmonds. While Edmonds was fleeing, he ran a red light and hit a truck, killing driver Donna Niblock and seriously injuring two passengers. Edmonds then fled the scene on foot, and. IMPD Sgt. David Gard eventually caught him after he jumped a fence and fell in front of Gard’s car.

The state charged Edmonds with 12 counts, including three counts of resisting law enforcement, reckless homicide, driving while suspended resulting in the death of another, and multiple counts failure to remain at the scene of an accident, among others.

After a jury found him guilty as charged, the Marion Superior Court, at Edmonds’ request, dismissed his three charges of driving while suspended and merged his conviction of Level 3 felony resisting law enforcement causing the death of another person with his conviction of Level 5 felony reckless homicide. Edmonds was then sentenced to an aggregate term of 25 years.

In a Thursday appellate decision, the Indiana Court of Appeals first sua sponte addressed “the double jeopardy violation that occurred when the trial court convicted Edmonds on three counts of resisting law enforcement, one resulting in death and two resulting in bodily injury.” Judge Melissa May, writing for the appellate panel, said Edmonds’ three resisting law enforcement convictions all stemmed from the same action — running the red light and crashing into Niblock’s vehicle.

Similarly, all four counts against him of leaving the scene of an accident were based on one single incident, May said, pointing to precedent in cases such as Wood v. State, 999 N.E.2d 1054, 1065 (Ind. Ct. App. 2013). Thus, his multiple convictions for each of those offenses violated double jeopardy protections, so the appellate court vacated Edmonds’ two convictions of Level 5 felony resisting law enforcement and three lesser convictions of failing to remain at the scene of an accident. The case was remanded for resentencing on Edmonds’ remaining convictions.

Then, turning to Edmonds’ sufficiency of the evidence argument, May and the appellate panel determined that although the officers temporarily stopped their pursuit due to safety concerns, “(a)t no time did Edmonds act as though he was not fleeing police,” and “(a)t no time did the police not actively track Edmonds.” Thus, because Edmonds knew the officers wanted him to stop, the state presented sufficient evidence to support his conviction of resisting law enforcement resulting in the death of another person, May said.

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