A man who followed a woman by car from Valparaiso to Warsaw has lost an appeal of his conviction and sentence for stalking.
Rodney Falls was arrested after following a woman who was leaving Valparaiso. As she stopped at a red light, Falls waved to her from his vehicle in the adjacent lane, and she ignored him. Falls, who the woman did not know, then followed her on U.S. Highway 30 for at least an hour and a half, mimicking her actions when she switched lanes and sped up or slowed down.
Once the woman reached Warsaw, she tested to see if Falls was following her by driving up and down residential streets. Upon realizing he continued to closely pursue her vehicle, the woman fled to the Warsaw Police Department, where Falls again pulled up beside her and waved.
She pulled out of the parking lot, called 911 and sped back to the police department. A clerical worker buzzed the woman into the building and Falls was subsequently questioned and arrested for stalking and possession of marijuana.
Before Falls’ jury trial was over, the trial court denied his request for it to provide the jury with an instruction detailing the Fifth Amendment right to travel as a constitutionally protected activity. Falls was thus sentenced to consecutive terms of 30 months for the stalking conviction and six-month of probation for his marijuana conviction.
Falls appealed, arguing the trial court erred in refusing to give his proffered jury instruction. He also alleged there was insufficient evidence to support his stalking conviction and that its respective sentence was inappropriate.
The Indiana Court of Appeals rejected his arguments in Rodney W. Falls v. State of Indiana, 18A-CR-2948, first finding that Falls’ jury instruction was erroneous and that the trial court did not err in rejecting it.
“The instruction fails to include a section explaining that the constitutional right to travel is not unlimited — namely, an explanation that the criminal regulation of stalking is a valid and well recognized exception to that right,” Judge John Baker wrote. “Without a complete explanation of the constitutional right to travel and its limitations, the jury instruction Falls proffered could have confused or misled the jury.”
Additionally, the appellate court concluded evidence that Falls’ actions were “repeated” pursuant to Indiana Code § 35-45-10-2 was not insufficient, despite the court’s definition of “repeated” as “more than once.”
“There is sufficient evidence to show that for hours, Falls followed A.G., sped up, slowed down, and tracked her as they were driving on interstate and highway roads. Even after the two left U.S. Highway 30, Falls continued to pursue A.G., turning down the same roads, driving on the same random paths, and even following her twice to the police station. It is apparent to us that this behavior constituted repeated or continuing harassment or impermissible contact,” the panel wrote.
Considering his criminal history of seven various felony convictions, including invasion of privacy and criminal battery, the appellate court concluded Falls’ character did not render his sentence inappropriate.
Judge L. Mark Bailey concurred in part and concurred in result in part in a separate opinion, concluding that the trial court erred in refusing to give the jury instruction that was “foundational to the theory of the defense — error that was harmless but error nonetheless.”
“Here, other instructions apprised the jury of the very limitation on the right to travel that was germane to the charge and that the majority identifies — i.e., that the jury could convict Falls for committing the criminal offense of stalking,” Bailey wrote. “Thus, when reading the instructions as a whole, I discern no tendency to confuse or mislead the jury.”