Appeals court orders man’s release from pretrial detention in child battery case

A man accused of battering a 2-year-old was ordered released from jail Tuesday by the Indiana Court of Appeals after it found no evidence that he posed a threat to either the victim or the community.

In John Yeager v. State of Indiana, 20A-CR-121, John Yeager was charged with Level 3 felony aggravated battery, Level 3 felony battery on a child less than 14 years old, Level 3 felony domestic battery, and Level 3 felony neglect of a dependent.

The state specifically accused him of battering his girlfriend’s 2-year-old son, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. He was  ordered held without bail until his initial hearing.

During the initial hearing, Yeager’s Indiana Risk Assessment Score was “0 (Low)” and the Jefferson County Pretrial Director recommended that Yeager “be released to pretrial supervision with the added condition of electronic monitoring.” The trial court, however, set Yeager’s bail at $250,000 cash only and issued a no-contact order for the minor child.

Yeager, who was 35 years old, unsuccessfully filed a motion to reduce his bail after asserting a variety of mitigating factors. Yeager told the court that he would like to be released on bail so he could work to pay for his defense counsel and hire an expert, adding that if the court ordered him to electronic monitoring he could pay the cost.

The trial court denied the motion, stating that the nature and gravity of the offense was “serious”, that Yeager faced a sentence up to 32 years and that it was not “confident public safety c[ould] be reasonably assured if [Yeager’s] bail were to be reduced.”

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed in Yeager’s favor, agreeing with his assertion that the fact that he “has merely been accused, cannot constitute clear and convincing evidence that he is a danger to the alleged victim or the community.”

“As Yeager points out, besides the accusations themselves, no evidence was presented ‘as to how he could possibly constitute a threat to anyone.’ The only evidence the State cites in its brief to show that Yeager is a danger to J.G. and the community is J.G.’s injuries. But this violates the presumption of innocence to which Yeager is entitled,” Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote for the appellate panel.

Again, the Jefferson County Pretrial Director recommended that Yeager be released to pretrial supervision with the added condition of electronic monitoring. Without any evidence to show that Yeager is a danger, we conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in denying Yeager’s motion to reduce his $250,000 cash-only bond. We therefore reverse the trial court and remand with instructions that Yeager be released to pretrial supervision with the added condition of electronic monitoring,” the panel concluded, leaving the no-contact order in place.

The appellate court also noted its result is “consistent with the new evidence-based risk-assessment system that Indiana has adopted” under Indiana Criminal Rule 26(A) and (B) effective as of January 2020.

Notwithstanding Indiana Appellate Rule 65(E), this opinion is effective immediately, and the trial court need not await a certification of this opinion by the Clerk of Courts before releasing Yeager to pretrial supervision with the added condition of electronic monitoring,” it wrote.

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