Indiana Court Decisions — Jan. 3-17, 2019

7th Circuit Court of Appeals

Jan. 15

Civil Tort — Civil Rights/Wrongful Arrest

William Rainsberger v. Charles Benner


An Indianapolis police detective who knowingly falsified information in an affidavit that led to the imprisonment of a man charged with murdering his elderly mother lost an appeal Jan. 15 and must face the falsely accused man’s civil lawsuit.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a Southern District Court ruling that the detective’s affidavit failed to establish probable cause against the victim’s son, violating his Fourth Amendment rights.

Forty minutes after a 911 call was placed, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department detective Charles Benner responded and arrived at the scene of an 88-year-old woman’s apartment where her son, William Rainsberger, had found her laying on the floor, her head covered by a bloody blanket. Rainsberger told paramedics he thought she had received blunt force trauma to the head, but he did not look under the blanket to check for fear of increased bleeding.

After giving statements to Benner, Rainsberger returned to the IMPD station the next day per Benner’s request to hear the autopsy results. However, Benner accused Rainsberger of murdering his mother for her money and was asked to take a polygraph. Without waiting for Rainsberger’s DNA results, Benner submitted a probable cause affidavit to the Marion County prosecutor, which was denied.

A second almost-identical probable cause affidavit was submitted in May 2014, without the DNA evidence. It instead included cell phone records to suggest that Rainsberger had called his brother from his mother’s apartment at 2:40 p.m. — hours after she was attacked and a little more than an hour before Rainsberger called 911. The affidavit also stated that cell phone tower location data could not place Rainsberger outside the area of his mother’s apartment during the relevant period.

Rainsberger was ultimately charged with the murder of his mother and spent two months in jail before being released on bail. A prosecutor later dismissed the case due to evidentiary problems and the charges were dropped. Rainsberger sued Benner under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting that Benner had violated his Fourth Amendment rights.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana denied Benner’s motion for summary judgment, holding that a reasonable jury could find that Benner knowingly or with reckless disregard for the truth made false or misleading statements in his affidavit. It further denied Benner’s request for qualified immunity, finding that probable cause did not exist without the false or misleading statements, and that he violated the Fourth Amendment.

On appeal, Benner requested that the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reverse that decision, which it declined to do in William Rainsberger v. Charles Benner, 17-2521.

Among other things, the panel noted that the most damning information included in the second affidavit were the phone records. Assuming that Benner knew the timestamp was inaccurate yet chose to include it anyway, the court admonished him for failing to note that that the phone call made by Rainsberger had been routed through a cell tower in Chicago, where it was one hour earlier. Thus, despite the 2:40 p.m. time stamp, the call had been placed at 3:40 p.m. Indianapolis time. “It was the call that Rainsberger had made to (his brother) just after he found Ruth and called 911. Benner chose to use the inaccurate and incriminating time in his affidavit,” Judge Amy Coney Barrett wrote for the panel.

The panel further noted Benner made false claims and intentionally withheld information throughout the affidavit.

Rainsberger is represented by Indianapolis civil rights attorney Rich Waples, who said in an email Wednesday that his client “suffered one of the worst losses one can endure — the tragic murder of a family member. Then he was framed for that murder by an overzealous cop who made up evidence against him and ignored evidence which exonerated him.

“… Mr. Rainsberger looks forward to exposing the officer’s misdeeds in his federal civil rights trial,” Waples said.

Indiana Supreme Court

Jan. 9

Juvenile — Agreed Delinquency Adjudication/Appeal

J.W. v. State of Indiana


Juveniles who agree to delinquency adjudications cannot immediately challenge their adjudications on direct appeal, but instead must make a request for post-judgment relief via Trial Rule 60 before pursuing their constitutional right to appeal, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled.

Justices granted transfer in J.W. v. State of Indiana, 19S-JV-12, on Jan. 9, and used the case to determine whether the holding in Tumulty v. State, 666 N.E.2d 394 (Ind. 1996) should be extended to the juvenile version of plea agreements. Tumulty held that adult defendants must challenge their guilty pleas via post-conviction relief, not direct appeal, and the instant case tasked the justices with examining that rule in the juvenile context.

J.W. has a lengthy history with the juvenile justice system dating to 2013. He was eventually placed in the Department of Correction, and upon his release in 2017, he became a runaway.

Then in July 2017, New Castle police received a 911 call about a young man threatening suicide. J.W. turned out to be the person making the threat, though he identified himself to police as his older brother, M.W., using his brother’s birthdate to make it appear as though J.W. were 18.

J.W.’s true identity was revealed when he was admitted to the local hospital and his sister called asking for information about his condition. J.W. was then arrested as a juvenile runaway for fleeing his parents’ home and for false informing.

At a subsequent hearing in August 2017, J.W.’s counsel told the court the teen had agreed to admit to what would be Class B misdemeanor false informing if committed by an adult, and J.W. admitted to providing a false name and birthdate. The court accepted the settlement, but J.W. appealed, arguing his adjudication should be set aside.

The Indiana Court of Appeals, however, dismissed the appeal in December 2017, finding juvenile defendants must seek relief through a Trial Rule 60 motion. The Supreme Court likewise dismissed J.W.’s appeal, finding the “same concerns of finality and freedom” that apply to agreements and settlements in the criminal and civil courts likewise apply in judicial proceedings.

“As with other consent judgments, an agreed delinquency judgment limits the juvenile’s ability to challenge the agreed judgment on direct appeal,” Justice Geoffrey Slaughter wrote for the unanimous court.

The process of challenging agreed judgments, including agreed delinquency adjudications, generally requires trial courts to conduct additional fact-finding into the formation of the agreement, Slaughter wrote. While that process plays out in criminal post-conviction proceedings for adults, Trial Rule 60 is the appropriate avenue for juveniles who wish to raise “any and all claims” regarding the illegality of agreed delinquency adjudications, the court said.

The justices concluded that juveniles retain the right to counsel for post-judgment relief motions. The court also noted that its bright-line ruling might be overinclusive, but “the rule’s likely benefits in simplicity and overall judicial economy outweigh its costs.”

The case was dismissed without prejudice and remanded for further proceedings, with the court noting that the time J.W. spent litigating his appeal will not impact the timeliness of any post-judgment motion he chooses to file.

Jan. 11

Criminal — Community Corrections Eligibility/Substance Abuse Treatment

Brittany Erin Hoak v. State of Indiana


A woman who has yet to receive court-ordered substance abuse treatment may soon receive it after the Indiana Supreme Court granted transfer to her case.

After pleading guilty to Level 5 felony possession of methamphetamine and admitting that she violated her probation in a previous drug case, the Clark Circuit Court revoked Brittany Hoak’s probation and imposed her remaining suspended sentence of 294 days, also sentencing her to an additional three years of incarceration. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed in Brittany Erin Hoak v. State of Indiana, 18A-CR-1094, noting in its determination that despite her multiple drug-related contacts with the criminal justice system, Hoak had yet to receive court-ordered substance abuse treatment. However, the appellate court denied her request for sentence revision under Indiana Appellate Rule 7(B).

But a divided Indiana Supreme Court granted transfer to Hoak’s case and remanded it with instructions to determine whether Hoak is eligible for substance abuse treatment in a community corrections placement. The high court stated that if she is determined to be eligible, half of her sentence is to be executed in community corrections.

“In all other respects, we summarily affirm the Court of Appeals decision,” the high court wrote in a per curiam opinion.

Justices Mark Massa and Geoffrey Slaughter, however, dissented from the majority, believing transfer should be denied.

Indiana Court of Appeals

Jan. 10

Criminal — Motion to Suppress/License Plate Check Error

State of Indiana v. Michael Dwayne Bouye


The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a motion to suppress evidence when it found that despite a motorist proving a vehicle was properly licensed, the police officer who pulled the driver over during a traffic stop still had a reasonable suspicion to do so.

During a traffic stop for what he thought was someone improperly operating a white Saturn with a license plate belonging to a different vehicle, an Indianapolis police officer discovered marijuana in the car and notice that Michael Bouye was possibly intoxicated.

Bouye was later charged with Class A misdemeanor possession of marijuana, Class C misdemeanor operating a vehicle while intoxicated and Class C misdemeanor operating a motor vehicle with an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more.

The Marion Superior Court granted Bouye’s motion to suppress the evidence when he alleged the officer had no reasonable suspicion to stop his vehicle. At the suppression hearing, Bouye’s wife testified that the white Saturn was her vehicle, as she had recently sold a prior vehicle and transferred and re-registered its license plate to the Saturn. She then offered the registration receipt, showing the plate was properly registered to the Saturn on March 2, 2017, more than one month before Bouye’s arrest.

The trial court thus suppressed all evidence obtained, finding there was a “breakdown somewhere” that misled the officer and that he did not have a reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle.

On appeal, the state argued the motion to suppress should be reversed on the grounds that the officer did have reasonable suspicion to stop Bouye’s vehicle.

The appellate court reversed the trial court’s decision in State of Indiana v. Michael Dwayne Bouye, 18A-CR-1730, noting that it had previously held that routine license plate checks showing potential improper plate registration are enough to create a reasonable suspicion.

“The fact that Bouye’s wife, at the suppression hearing, proved that Bouye had not violated the law regarding the license plate and that the plate was, in fact, registered with the correct vehicle is beside the point,” Judge John G. Baker wrote for the court. “Even if it is later shown that the defendant did not violate the law, the stop itself is still constitutional so long as the officer had a reasonable suspicion that a violation had occurred.

“In other words, whether there was actually a violation is irrelevant to the constitutionality of the stop. What matters is whether the officer had a reasonable suspicion that a violation had occurred,” Baker continued. “Here, that standard is met based on the results of the (Indiana Data and Communications System) search. Therefore, the stop was constitutional under the federal and state constitutions.”

The appellate court added that the officer was not required to conduct a full investigation of the white Saturn, but rather, he was under no obligation to do more than the IDACS search to establish reasonable suspicion.

Jan. 11

Miscellaneous — Contempt/Violation of Grandparental Visitation Order

D.G. v. W.M., et al.


A DeKalb County mother who refused to comply with court-ordered visitation between her children and their paternal grandparents must now serve jail time and pay a $14,000 sanction after the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld visitation and contempt orders Jan. 11.

The grandparents in D.G. v. W.M., et al., 18A-MI-2115, were awarded visitation time with D.G.’s four children in March 2016 after previously raising the children in their home for several years. Despite that order, the visits between the grandparents and grandchildren generally did not occur, so the grandparents moved to show cause why D.G. should not have been held in contempt.

In response, the trial court ordered that the mother serve 12 days in jail and pay $1,000 in attorney fees. D.G., however, never resumed visits with the grandparents, nor did she go to jail or pay fees.

Then in March 2018, D.G. moved to terminate grandparent visitation, but the trial court in June issued a show cause order against her for contempt. The actions were consolidated, and a guardian ad litem testified that grandparent visitation should continue. The trial court agreed, denying D.G.’s termination motion and issuing a contempt order requiring her to serve 180 days in the DeKalb County Jail and pay $14,000 in attorney’s fees.

On appeal, D.G. argued she presented the trial court with evidence that she and her children opposed visitation, so the court “should have required Grandparents to bear the burden of proving that visitation remained in Children’s best interests.” She further argued that In re Adoption of A.A., 51 N.E.3d 380 (Ind. Ct. App. 2016) —  which held that “the petitioner seeking a subsequent change in a grandparent visitation order bears the burden of showing the order should be modified” — was wrongly decided.

But the appellate court disagreed that A.A. was erroneous, noting D.G.’s arguments on appeal ignored the fact that the GAL testified in favor of continuing grandparent visitation. Additionally, Judge L. Mark Bailey said the change in circumstances that D.G. claimed justified terminating the visitation “were traceable to her own conduct.”

“At the modification hearing, she explained that she had changed her initial belief that visitation was in the Children’s best interests and, over time, her relationship with Grandparents had become toxic,” Bailey wrote. “… She thus invited the trial court to reward her consistent non-compliance. Here, as in In re A.A., there is a failure to acknowledge and differentiate that which is a ‘direct result of [parental] contumacious conduct.”

The court also affirmed the contempt order, noting the trial court was not required to credit D.G.’s testimony that the children were uncooperative with visitation. The appellate panel further found that D.G. was given the opportunity to purge herself of contempt if the grandparents’ counsel could notify the court that she dropped off and retrieved the children for court-ordered visits with their grandparents.

“Mother apparently believes that the stay of incarceration is conditioned upon the Grandparents’ good will toward her and that they may fail to report her future compliance,” Bailey conclude. “We observe that the notification requirement was placed upon counsel, an officer of the court. We do not agree with Mother that this deprives her of a reasonable opportunity to purge herself of contempt.”

Jan. 17

Criminal — Murder/Excluded Witness, Tattoo Photo

Danny L. Saintignon v. State of Indiana


A man who murdered a woman in order to rob her of prescription drugs lost an appeal of his convictions when the Indiana Court of Appeals found there was sufficient evidence and that a Delaware Circuit Court did not deprive him of a defense.

After conspiring with a friend to rob a woman he slept with to take her pain medication, Danny Saintignon ultimately murdered Monica Brown of Muncie in the process of the robbery in December 2009.

Nearly seven years later, Saintignon was charged with Class A felony conspiracy to commit burglary resulting in bodily injury, murder, and Class B felony robbery resulting in bodily injury. He was convicted and sentenced to an aggregate 137½ years in prison.

On appeal, Saintignon argued the trial court abused its discretion and deprived him of a defense when it excluded some of his proposed witnesses. However, the appellate court ultimately found that none of Saintignon’s witnesses excluded from testifying led to the deprivation of a defense in derogation of his constitutional rights.

Saintignon additionally contended that the trial court erred when it admitted a photograph into evidence that showed what he contends were his Aryan Brotherhood tattoos. Specifically, he argued the probative value of the photograph was substantially outweighed by the prejudicial effect of the photograph on the jury.

“The State offered Exhibit 79 to show that Saintignon had a bruise on his right bicep two days after Brown was murdered. Such an injury could tend to make it more probable that he was Brown’s killer, and, thus, it was relevant to an issue at trial,” Judge Patricia A. Riley wrote for the panel. “The State did not present any testimony identifying or explaining the significance of Saintignon’s tattoos, only three of which are fully visible in the photograph.

“Because none of the tattoos clearly denote the Aryan Brotherhood, we find that the minimal, if any, prejudice to Saintignon did not render the photograph inadmissible and that the impact on the jury, if any, did not affect his substantial rights,” Riley wrote.

Lastly, Saintignon contended there was insufficient evidence to support his convictions, an argument the appellate court found to be lacking as well. Saintignon pointed to the relative dearth of DNA, blood and fingerprint evidence connecting him to the crime scene, as well as his argument that the state was unable to prove property was missing from Brown’s home. But the court noted Saintignon was found in possession of Brown’s purse and gun after she was killed.

“We conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it excluded Saintignon’s proposed witnesses, nor did it deprive him of his right to present a defense,” Riley concluded. “In addition, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it admitted a photograph that depicted Saintignon’s tattoos.”

The appellate court affirmed there was evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to support Staintignon’s convictions in Danny L. Saintignon v. State of Indiana,18A-CR-279.

Estate, Unsupervised — Order on Final Account/Bad Faith

Rhonda DeLap Tipton v. Estate of Virginia D. Hofmann


The Indiana Court of Appeals found a trial court’s decision to approve an estate administrator’s final accounting was not clearly erroneous. Instead, it noted that a woman appealing the order acted in procedural bad faith, and thus ordered her to pay appellate attorney fees from her share of the estate.

After her revocation as the unsupervised administration of her deceased mother’s estate, Rhonda DeLap Tipton made amends with her two siblings in a family settlement agreement. But when ordered to personally appear for failing to offer a closing statement on the estate, a trial court found the conflict remained between the siblings almost two years later. It thus removed Tipton and her brother as co-personal representatives and appointed an Administrator Cum Testamento Annexo of the estate.

The administrator filed a verified petition to settle and allow final account, which included both approvals and disapprovals of various amounts that Tipton and her brother contended the estate owed them. In March 2018, the trial court conducted a hearing on the objections to the administrator’s final account and issued an order finding distribution to Tipton in the amount of $5,186.83 for repayment of loans and advances.

On appeal, Tipton requested a review of the trial court’s order and to close the estate “correctly” by granting her claim for reimbursement of $9,009.86.

The appellate court noted that Tipton’s appellate brief failed to comply “in virtually every respect” with Indiana Appellate Rule 46. Specifically, the panel found Tipton violated Appellate Rule 46(A)(2) by omitting the table of authorities and Appellate Rule 46(A)(4) by only including arguments and self-serving facts in her statement of the issues.

“Tipton’s nature of the case description, statement of facts, and summary of the argument pursuant to Appellate Rule 46(A)(5);-(6);-(7) are completely nonexistent and missing from her appellate brief,” Judge Patricia A. Riley wrote for the court. “Although Tipton’s brief fails to include a separate argument section as required by Appellate Rule 46(A)(8), it could be argued that the section titled ‘Issues’ presents Tipton’s analysis. However, Tipton fails to support her bare assertions with cogent reasoning, citations to the record, or to legal authorities.”

In finding her contentions too poorly expressed and developed to be understood, the appellate court determined it prevented the court’s appellate analysis and consideration of Tipton’s alleged errors. Thus, her issue was found waived.

Additionally, finding Tipton to have engaged in procedural bad faith before the court, the panel remanded Rhonda DeLap­­ Tipton v. E­state of Virginia D. Hofmann, 18A-EU-1009 to the trial court with instructions to calculate the amount of appellate attorney fees the estate is entitled to recover.

“Keeping in mind our duty to use great restraint when determining that an award of appellate attorney fees is warranted, we nonetheless find that such an award is appropriate under the facts of this case,” Riley concluded.•

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