COA reverses man’s resisting conviction due to lack of evidence

The Court of Appeals of Indiana has partially reversed for a Greencastle man after it concluded testimony from a sheriff’s deputy wasn’t enough evidence for a resisting law enforcement conviction.

In December 2020, Mildred Pearson heard a knocking sound on the window of her front door. Pearson opened the door to find Randy Runnells standing on her porch.

When Pearson asked Runnells if she could help him, Runnells stated, “I’m looking for my mother,” “My mother lives here,” “My mother’s upstairs” and, “I need to see my mother.” Pearson told Runnells to leave and closed the door.

Runnells did not leave, but instead sat in a rocking chair on the porch and began talking to himself.

Pearson called 911m and Putnam County Sheriff’s Cpl. David Scott Ducker responded to the scene. Ducker was familiar with Runnells from previous police encounters, the last of which had occurred “about a year” earlier.

When Ducker arrived at Pearson’s home, Runnells was still sitting on the porch and “talking to himself incoherently.” Ducker told Runnells he was not welcome on the property and needed to leave, but Runnells stayed put.

Ducker then ordered Runnells to stand up and walk with him to his patrol car. Runnells complied but “started to become very physically agitated,” standing up “very quickly” and displaying “agitat[ion] with his arms.”

While walking to the patrol car, Runnells refused Ducker’s requests to identify himself and provide identification. At that point, Ducker determined it would be safest to place Runnells in handcuffs “for the investigation.”

Runnells, however, resisted by twice “pull[ing] away” as Ducker tried to handcuff him. Ducker responded by forcing Runnells to the ground and restraining him.

The state subsequently charged Runnells with Class A misdemeanor counts of criminal trespass and resisting law enforcement. After a bench trial, Runnells was convicted on both counts and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, all suspended to probation, to be served consecutive to his sentence in an unrelated felony case.

On appeal, the court found the only evidence presented to support the resisting conviction was Ducker’s testimony, which wasn’t sufficient for the conviction.

“Nothing in this testimony suggests any ‘strength, power, or violence’ in Runnells’ actions or otherwise proves beyond a reasonable doubt that Runnells acted forcibly,” Judge Leanna Weissmann opined in the reversal, citing Walker v. State, 998 N.E.2d 724 (Ind. 2013).

On cross-appeal, the COA agreed with the state that the case needed to be remanded because the Putnam Circuit Court only sentenced Runnells for one of his two misdemeanor convictions.

“… (I)t appears the trial court either failed to issue a sentence for one of Runnells’ convictions or erroneously issued a single sentence for both,” Weissmann wrote. “For simplicity, we assume the trial court failed to issue a sentence as to Runnells’ unchallenged conviction for Class A misdemeanor criminal trespass. We therefore remand for resentencing on that count.”

The case is Randy W. Runnells v. State of Indiana, 21A-CR-2217.

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