Court wrongly denied pretrial home detention, COA rules

An 18-year-old woman who allegedly drove a getaway car for accomplices involved in an armed burglary was wrongly found to be a risk to the safety of the alleged victim, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Monday. The panel ordered the teen remain held on pretrial home detention with GPS monitoring.

Sierra DeWees was charged with Level 2 felony aiding, inducing or causing a burglary after police in Brazil, Indiana, stopped the car she was driving, in which Weston Havey was the sole passenger. Police saw a shotgun in the car and a bloodstain on the backseat, and Havey admitted to police that he and two others had been involved in a plan to rob Irving Mullins, a 67-year-old Brazil man. DeWees admitted to being the getaway driver, according to the record.

When Havey, Blake Braun and Preston Hasler allegedly broke into Mullins’ home, Havey had a shotgun and someone fired at Mullins, who returned fire and struck Braun, after which the suspects fled and were soon arrested.

After DeWees’ initial hearing, her bond was set at “$50,000 NO 10% CASH ONLY,” Judge Elizabeth Tavitas wrote. DeWees, who lived with her mother and stepfather in neighboring Putnam County, moved for bond reduction or conditional pretrial release. Among other things, DeWees noted a lack of criminal history, that she had been prescreened and was eligible for electronic home detention through community corrections. She also was a high school senior who had been accepted into two universities to study nursing.

But Mullins testified that he was in fear of DeWees and the accomplices, leaving the Clay Superior Court to find DeWees was not entitled to pretrial release under Criminal Rule 26. “(T)he court cannot say that [DeWees] is not a substantial flight risk nor that she is not a danger to others. … Primarily because of … Mullins’ testimony the court concludes that the State has proved by clear and convincing evidence that [DeWees] is a risk” to his safety.

The Court of Appeals granted an emergency stay of that order pending appeal, which was granted, and DeWees was released to pretrial home detention. Monday’s order in Sierra M. DeWees v. State of Indiana, 20A-CR-1146, reaffirmed the COA’s emergency order and found the trial court abused its discretion.

“Although we are sympathetic to Mullins’ distress, Mullins’ testimony that he remains in a fearful state cannot, standing alone, sustain the the (sic) trial court’s finding that DeWees poses a risk to Mullins’ physical safety. We decline to find, as the trial court did, that Mullins’ testimony sufficed to establish, by clear and convincing evidence, that DeWees posed a risk to Mullins’ physical safety,” Tavitas wrote for the panel.

“Moreover, we regard the trial court’s elevation of Mullins’ testimony over the Indiana Code Section 35-33-8-4(b) factors, and its reliance ‘primarily’ thereon in denying DeWees conditional pre-trial release, as impermissibly punitive. … We do not reach this conclusion lightly, but are compelled to do so based on discrete facts within the record. … (O)f the four participants in the attempted robbery, only DeWees remained outside Mullins’ residence. Mullins, thus, had no interaction whatsoever with DeWees. Additionally, we find, as a whole, that Mullins’ hearing testimony illustrates his understandable anger and desire for justice more than it reflects that Mullins perceives a genuine threat to his physical safety from DeWees. Lastly, the record on appeal reveals that the State granted conditional pretrial release on home detention to Braun, who actually breached Mullins’ residence, possibly wielding a firearm, and was shot by Mullins. … Braun was granted latitude in the form of a home detention placement in Marion County.”

The court noted its decision was effective immediately and that DeWees was to remain in pretrial home detention.

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected.

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