Appeals court tosses battery with deadly weapon conviction

A man’s confession to police was ruled insufficient without other evidence of a crime to support his conviction of battery with a deadly weapon, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday, vacating a conviction in a domestic violence case.

The panel threw out the conviction of the LaPorte Superior Court in Armann Jamal Johnson v. State of Indiana, 19A-CR-2849. Johnson had been accused of multiple crimes after police in Michigan City investigated a possible arson and domestic violence reported by Johnson’s former girlfriend, M.W.

M.W. was out of state and did not testify at trial, but prosecutors introduced as evidence a security stick that secured a sliding glass door in M.W.’s apartment and photos of her bruises, along with Johnson’s out-of-court confession to police that it was “probably” possible that he struck M.W. with the security stick. He admitted to police he struck her with his fists.

Johnson was initially charged with six felony count counts: robbery, stalking, battery, strangulation, arson and intimidation. After the state dismissed the strangulation and intimidation charges, the jury found Johnson not guilty of all other charges except Level 5 felony battery with a deadly weapon. He was sentenced to three years in the Department of Correction, 587 days of which was to be suspended to probation.

The COA vacated that conviction. “We conclude, based on the record before us, there was insufficient evidence to support the inference that a crime had been committed with regard to the battery with a deadly weapon charge before Johnson’s out-of-court confession regarding the battery with a deadly weapon was admitted into evidence,” Judge Elizabeth Tavitas wrote for the panel.

“The photographs merely demonstrated that M.W. had bruises. The State presented no evidence establishing a connection between the security stick and the alleged crime. M.W.’s statement to Detective LaMotte that Johnson battered her was not admitted as substantive evidence and was subject to the trial court’s limiting instruction.

“Alone, this evidence is insufficient to support the inference that a crime was committed. Even assuming that the photographs, security stick, and M.W.’s statement to Detective LaMotte were properly admitted, the State presented no evidence that Johnson committed battery by means of a deadly weapon against M.W. Accordingly, the State presented insufficient evidence to support the requirement of the corpus delicti before admission of Johnson’s confession. The trial court abused its discretion in admitting Johnson’s confession regarding the battery with a deadly weapon.”

“… Accordingly, there was insufficient evidence to convict Johnson of battery with a deadly weapon, and we reverse the conviction,” the panel concluded.

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