Judgment reversed for woman who posted bond, then fatally shot defendant

A dispute over who should receive bond money paid on behalf of a now-deceased defendant will proceed in court after the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed summary judgment for the woman who posted the bond.

In Clifton E. Sharp v. State of Indiana, and Brianna Finney, 19A-CR-467, Clifton Sharp was charged in March 2017 with multiple drug felonies. While he was in custody, Sharp negotiated the sale of his vehicle, and $10,000 of the proceeds was used by Brianna Finney to pay Sharp’s bond the following January.

Sharp was released in April 2018, at which point Finney shot and killed him. According to a footnote in the Tuesday Indiana Court of Appeals opinion, Finney maintains she acted in self-defense, and she has never been charged in connection with Sharp’s death.

Also in April 2018, Finney filed a motion in the criminal case for the bond money to be released to her. Sharp’s estate also made a claim to the money, but Finney filed a summary judgment motion challenging the estate’s standing. She included an affidavit claiming she had posted the bond, though she did not assert the money had belonged to her when it was posted.

Summary judgment was initially denied to Finney, but when a new judge took over the case, the Clark Circuit Court entered judgment as a matter of law for Finney while also determining the estate did have standing to make a claim to the bond money.

In partially upholding that ruling, Indiana Court of Appeals Judge John Baker first wrote that Finney made an “implicit request” of the new judge to reconsider the initial judge’s summary judgment ruling because her counsel engaged the new judge in a discussion on how to proceed. The estate likewise implicitly agreed by also engaging in that discussion.

“Since it has been established that the Estate has standing to make this claim, what remains to be determined is whether the trial court properly entered final judgment in Finney’s favor given that the summary judgment proceedings related only to the issue of standing,” Baker continued. “Cutting to the proverbial chase, we find that by making arguments related to the ultimate issue and failing to object to its consideration without another hearing, the Estate has invited any error that may have occurred with respect to the trial court’s decision to consider the ultimate issue.”

Even so, the COA determined the trial court erred by entering judgment as a matter of law in favor of Finney because she never claimed the bond money was hers. The presumption under Indiana Code § 35-33-8-3.2(b) is that bond money will remit to the defendant or, as in this case, their estate.

“Here, the parties have not had the opportunity to develop a record regarding whether Finney’s claim to the money overcomes the presumption that it should go to the Estate,” Baker wrote. “We find that there is an issue of fact in this regard, as it cannot be determined from the record before us whether Finney was acting as Sharp’s agent when she posted the bond, using his own money on his behalf, or was, instead, acting on her own behest with her own money — or, in either event, whether Sharp was a third-party beneficiary of the bond contract between Finney and the clerk.”

Judgment for Finney was thus reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

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