Appeals court affirms battery-by-bodily fluid statute includes spitting

An inmate who spat on a correctional officer lost his appeal Tuesday in which he argued, among other things, that Indiana’s battery by bodily fluid statute is unconstitutional for vagueness.

The panel affirmed the conviction after a jury trial in Sullivan Superior Court in Robert Coleman v. State of Indiana, 19A-CR-2336.

Robert Coleman was an inmate at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility when he spat in a correctional officer’s face, resulting in the charge of battery by bodily fluid against a public safety official. Among other evidence, the state produced photos of the correctional officer after the incident and surveillance video taken from a prison camera stationed near Coleman’s cell.

Coleman’s defense counsel argued, among other things, that the liquid from the officer’s face could have instead been perspiration and should have been DNA tested, and that the bodily fluid statute “should be applied only to ‘blood, urine, feces; things that can cause infectious diseases.’” The jury found Coleman guilty and tacked on an additional two-year consecutive sentence to those Coleman was serving, leading to this appeal.

Coleman “argues that, because the term ‘bodily fluid’ is undefined in the battery statute, the battery statute was unconstitutionally vague and denied him due process,” Judge Rudy Pyle III wrote for the panel. “… Coleman, however, neither filed a motion to dismiss the charge against him nor otherwise raised a constitutional vagueness or due process challenge to the trial court. As a result, he has waived any such challenges on appeal.

“Waiver notwithstanding, we conclude that Coleman has failed to show that the statute was unconstitutionally vague and that he was not denied due process,” Pyle continued. “Accordingly, we affirm his conviction.”

The panel turned to the dictionary definition of bodily fluids to uphold the statute. “(A) person of ordinary intelligence would, from the phrase ‘bodily fluid’ as used in the battery statute, know that spitting or placing saliva, on another person’s face was included in the proscribed conduct of placing bodily fluid on another person. Accordingly, Coleman’s argument that the battery statute is unconstitutionally vague fails.” The panel also noted that elsewhere in Indiana code, saliva is defined as a bodily fluid.

The COA further rejected his due process claim as an impermissible request to reweigh evidence.

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