A man convicted of resisting law enforcement has successfully appealed his conviction to the Indiana Court of Appeals, which determined the jury instruction on the “fleeing” element to his conviction was fundamental error warranting reversal.
After noticing that Christapher Batchelor was driving without wearing a seatbelt, Clay County Deputy Sheriff James Switzer attempted to initiate a traffic stop. Batchelor, however, continued to drive for nearly two minutes, then finally stopped when Switzer shined an LED spotlight on Batchelor’s mirrors.
Batchelor then got on the ground on Switzer’s order, but he resisted the officer’s attempts to handcuff him and kicked the deputy into his truck. Switzer injured his ankle, while two responding officers sustained a jammed finger and black eye.
During the ensuing trial on Batchelor’s resisting law enforcement and battery charges, his attorney maintained that Batchelor had not fled because there was no high-speed chase. The jury instructions defined “fleeing” as, among other elements, conduct that is different than what a “reasonable driver” would have done to ensure safety.
Batchelor did not object to the instruction, and a jury found him guilty of Level 6 felony resisting law enforcement by fleeing in a vehicle, Level 5 felony battery on a law enforcement officer and Class A misdemeanor resisting law enforcement. Batchelor then appealed in Christapher Batchelor v. State of Indiana, 11A01-1707-CR-1574, arguing the jury instruction on “fleeing” was erroneous.
Relying on Cowans v. State, 53 N.E.3d 540 (Ind. Ct. App. 2016), the Indiana Court of Appeals agreed and determined the Clay Circuit Court erred in giving the “fleeing” instruction because Cowans requires the defendant – not the state, as was done here – to request such an instruction. Further, Judge Michael Barnes wrote the instruction constituted fundamental error because the instruction misrepresented the mens rea in the applicable statute, Indiana Code section 35-44.1-3-1, which requires proof that a defendant “knowingly or intentionally” fled.
“Although there is no question Batchelor knew of Deputy Switzer’s wanting to pull him over, there is also no evidence that there was a ‘high-speed chase’ here,” Barnes wrote. “It was for the jury to decide whether such a chase that lasted approximately a minute-and-a-half was a knowing or intentional fleeing by Batchelor, not whether it was something a ‘reasonable’ person would have done.”
“We conclude that this misstatement of the mens rea for a resisting law enforcement conviction was sufficient by itself to make the instruction fundamentally erroneous, mandating reversal of Batchelor’s conviction for Level 6 felony resisting law enforcement by fleeing in a vehicle,” Barnes continued.
Though Batchelor challenged all three of his convictions, the court noted in a footnote that he did not put forth an argument as to how the instructional error affected his Level 5 felony and Class A misdemeanor convictions. Thus, those convictions were affirmed, and the case was remanded for proceedings, including a possible retrial.