Appellate panel denies targeted approach in criminal recklessness ruling

A LaPorte County man who fired a shotgun into a pickup truck then argued his action did not trigger precedent was unable to get the Court of Appeals of Indiana to narrow the scope of the previous ruling and overturn his felony conviction.

Lamar Wilson was charged with criminal recklessness for shooting into the side of Brian Hoops’ truck. Intervening in an argument between Hoops and his girlfriend, Wilson was demanding Hoops leave the property.

At one point, Wilson fired the shotgun into the air, and the next time into the bed of the truck, near the gas tank. The girlfriend and her daughter were showered with debris.

Wilson went to trial, charged with criminal recklessness as a Level 5 felony and pointing a loaded firearm as a Level 6 felony. After the presentation of evidence, he unsuccessfully moved for a directed verdict on the criminal recklessness charge.

The jury then found him guilty only of criminal recklessness, and he was sentenced to three years in the community corrections GPS program.

On appeal, Wilson argued against precedent set in Garcia v. State, 979 N.E.2d 156, 157 (Ind. Ct. App. 2012).

That case examined the criminal recklessness statute, Indiana Code § 35-42-2-2(b)(2)(A), which elevates the offense to a Level 5 felony if the firearm is shot in a “place where people are likely to gather.” Noting the statute does not define such places, the Garcia court concluded a vehicle is a place where people gather.

But Wilson asserted Garcia is limited only to incidents where the defendant shoots directly into the passenger compartment of a vehicle. The bed of the pickup truck is not covered by Garcia because passengers do not travel in that section of the vehicle, he argued.

However, the Court of Appeals was not convinced by Wilson’s argument, finding there is nothing in the criminal recklessness statute that suggests certain parts of the vehicle are covered by state law while other parts are not.

“We do not read Garcia so narrowly,” Judge Derek Molter wrote for the appellate panel in Lamar J. Wilson v. State of Indiana, 21A-CR-1088.

“For starters, it is difficult to imagine why the statute would distinguish between parts of a vehicle. Shooting into the bed of a truck hardly seems less dangerous or culpable than aiming the gun at a slightly higher trajectory so that the bullet passes through the rear or side window,” Molter wrote. “In this case in particular, Wilson shot near the gas tank, and potentially exploding the vehicle does not seem materially less dangerous than shooting into the passenger compartment. Even absent that risk, Wilson’s shot was so close to gathered bystanders that they were hit with debris.”

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