COA rejects vagueness, sufficiency arguments against domestic violence conviction

The Indiana Court of Appeals has upheld a domestic battery conviction against a man who claimed he wasn’t actually married to his victim.

After meeting online in 2015, Thomas Jackson proposed to Meiry Araujo, a Brazilian woman, in 2017. They were married by a justice of the peace in Louisville, Kentucky, in December 2018, but their marriage license was never filed with a clerk.

Less than two months later, Araujo returned from a visit to California to find Jackson’s girlfriend inside their Greenwood home. When Jackson got home, Araujo said she wanted a divorce and asked for their marriage certificate.

Jackson refused and tried to force his wife from the home, and the argument escalated into Jackson pushing her to the floor, pulling her hair, sitting on her back and forcing her arm behind her back. He then called the police with a trespassing claim, and officers arrived to find Araujo on the floor.

Despite a language barrier with Araujo, whose native language was Portuguese, officers determined she needed to leave the home and escorted her to a restaurant to wait for other transportation. She eventually moved in with Jackson’s ex-wife before moving to a women’s shelter. Jackson, meanwhile, told the officers that the two were not legally married.

Later that month, the state charged Jackson with Class A misdemeanor domestic battery, and he was convicted at a bench trial. The Johnson Superior Court sentenced him to one year of probation.

On appeal, Jackson first argued that the phrase “dated or has dated” in the statutory definition of “family or household member,” an element of the domestic violence statute, was unconstitutionally vague.

Though Jackson waived that argument by failing to file a pretrial motion to dismiss, the Court of Appeals on Friday chose to consider his argument “in part to clarify our prior decisions” – specifically, Williams v. State, 924 N.E.2d 121 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009), trans. denied, Collins v. State (911 N.E.2d 700 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009), and McVey v. State, 863 N.E.2d 434 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007).

Williams did not decide whether ‘dating or has dated’ was void for vagueness, instead, after acknowledging the State’s concession in Collins, found that the alternate statutory language was not void for vagueness and affirmed the trial court’s judgment. Collins and McVey involved challenges to conditions of probation and Williams did not decide the issue,” Senior Judge Carr Darden wrote Friday. “In the present case, however, we are addressing statutory language promulgated by our legislature establishing the element of a criminal offense.

“… While we do not disagree with our Court’s decision in McVey that ‘dating’ could be interpreted as including ‘the most mundane activities’ or ‘intimate occasions and sexual contact,’ … especially as a term of a condition of probation, we conclude that ‘dating’ is within the range of activities included in the statute, which as applied to the totality of the facts and circumstances of the case at hand, is sufficiently clear to have informed Jackson of the conduct that is prohibited,” Darden wrote.

The statute at issue is Indiana Code § 35-31.5-2-128(a)(1) and (2) (2012), which defines a “family or household member,” as used in the domestic violence statute, as an individual who “is dating or has dated the other person.” That language applies here, the court held, where Jackson and Araujo traveled to meet each other, stayed with each other, obtained a marriage license and went through a marriage ceremony.

“These actions fall squarely within the dictionary definitions we have examined and our consideration of the relationship of other words and phrases in the context of the statute,” Darden wrote. “The statutory elements ‘dated or has dated’ as applied to the facts and circumstances found in the case at hand are not vague.”

Jackson also argued that the state failed to prove he and Araujo were married pursuant to the “family or household member” statute. In addition to a “dating” relationship, the statute also considers “a current or former spouse of the other person.”

As with the vagueness argument, the Court of Appeals disagreed.

“At trial and here on appeal, Jackson argues that the marriage was invalid. However, on the other hand, he conceded that the two had been legally married by a Justice of the Peace in Louisville,” Darden wrote. “He further admitted the marriage had not been voided, and, at other times saying it was not ‘canceled.’ … In any event, Jackson’s testimony corroborates Meiry’s testimony concerning their relationship status in that he viewed it as a relationship that needed to be lawfully voided or canceled.”

The case is Thomas A. Jackson, Jr. v. State of Indiana, 20A-CR-1315.

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