Reversal: Orange County man’s child molesting conviction improperly elevated

The Indiana Court of Appeals has ordered a man convicted of child molesting resentenced. The panel found his felony conviction was improperly elevated and cautioned the trial court regarding consideration of his uncharged allegations on remand.

In Benjamen P. Chastain v. State of Indiana, 19A-CR-01539, Benjamen Chastain was charged with two counts of Class A felony child molesting and one count of Class C felony child molesting, the latter of which was dismissed as being filed outside of the statute of limitations.

A jury ultimately found Chastain guilty of just one count of child molesting and sentenced him to 40 years in prison, with 10 years suspended to probation. His offense was elevated from a Class B felony to a Class A felony because he was at least 21 years old at the time he committed the crime.

“The only evidence the State presented to establish this essential element was the testimony of Detective Mesarosh, who was permitted to testify, over Chastain’s hearsay objection, that information contained in records from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (which were not admitted into evidence) listed Chastain’s date of birth as January 12, 1976,” Judge Robert Altice wrote for the appellate court.

“The State appropriately concedes on appeal that the detective’s testimony in this regard constituted inadmissible hearsay evidence. Because this improper evidence was used to elevate the offense, Chastain and the State request that we reduce the conviction to a Class B felony. Accordingly, we remand to the trial court for entry of judgment of conviction and resentencing for a Class B felony,” the appellate court wrote.

However, it found as moot Chastain’s argument that his 40-year sentence was inappropriate in light of his character and the nature of his offense given the appellate court’s disposition of the issue resulting in remand for resentencing.

The appellate court, however, stated its concerns regarding an aggravating factor found by the trial court in Chastain’s case concerning other allegations of child abuse.

“(Lockard v. State, 600 N.E.2d 985, 987-88 (Ind. Ct. App. 1992)) is not applicable here because Chastain did not admit to molesting the other two children. More importantly, the jury found Chastain not guilty of the allegations involving L.B., and, therefore, those allegations may not be considered in sentencing him for the molestation of B.L. With respect to the third alleged victim, we observe that Chastain has not admitted to molesting her, and the State has not filed charges against him based on these allegations. Accordingly, on remand, the trial court should be cautious in its consideration of the uncharged allegations,” the appellate court concluded.

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