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Thursday, June 03, 2010

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court issues two this afternoon

In Christian Hollinsworth v. State of Indiana [Marion Superior Court, Criminal Division 13, Judge William Young ], a 3-page, 4-1 per curiam opinion, the Court writes:

Christian Hollinsworth appeals her conviction for driving while suspended as a class A misdemeanor. See Ind. Code § 9-24-19-2. She was sentenced to 365 days, executed, and her driving privileges were suspended for an additional 365 days. The sentence was subsequently modified on her motion, and the remaining executed portion of the sentence was suspended.

After the Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence, Hollinsworth petitioned to transfer jurisdiction to this Court. See Appellate Rule 56(B).

Hollinsworth argues that comments by the trial court during the bench trial showed the court was not impartial. For example, at the beginning of the trial, the court granted a recess so the parties could discuss a plea agreement, but no agreement resulted, and the trial began. After the State called its first witness, Hollinsworth informed the Court that she did not want a trial and now wanted to accept the State’s proffered plea agreement. The Court exhibited impatience and stated that if Hollinsworth were found guilty, “she’s going to jail for a year.” (Tr. p. 8.) The trial court further stated, “I don’t know if I want to take your plea. I’d rather just go to trial, I think. I don’t like being jerked around at all, all right?” (Tr. p. 9.) Also, while reviewing Hollinsworth's criminal history at sentencing, the trial court noted that Hollinsworth had been charged with theft and battery while the instant suspended license case had been pending. When her attorney stated, “Those are only alleged charges,” the trial court responded, “Sure they are.”

Indiana Judicial Conduct Canon 2 requires a judge to “perform the duties of judicial office impartially, competently, and diligently.” Judges must be “objective and open-minded.” Rule 2.2, comment 1. “A judge shall perform the duties of judicial office . . . without bias or prejudice.” Rule 2.3(A). “A judge shall be patient, dignified, and courteous to litigants.” Rule 2.8(B). A judge shall disqualify himself or herself “in any proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned” including in circumstances when “the judge has a personal bias or prejudicial concerning a party.” Rule 2.11(A).

The trial court’s behavior in this case did not meet these standards.

Accordingly, we grant transfer, vacate the Court of Appeals opinion reported at Hollinsworth v. State, 920 N.E.2d 679 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009), reverse the conviction, and remand for a new trial.

Shepard, C.J., and Dickson, Sullivan and Rucker, JJ., concur.
Boehm, J., agrees with the majority on the merits of this case but would deny transfer because the executed sentence in this case has already expired.

In State of Indiana v. Robert Richardson, an 8-page, 5-0 opinion, Justice Sullivan writes:
Defendant Robert Richardson was stopped for driving his pickup truck without wearing a seatbelt. The police officer's subsequent inquiry regarding a “large, unusual bulge” in his pocket led to the discovery of cocaine. The trial court concluded that this inquiry went beyond that authorized by Indiana's Seatbelt Enforcement Act. We agree with the trial court's determination. * * *

Indiana Code section 9-19-10-3.1, also known as the Seatbelt Enforcement Act (“Act”), provides that “a vehicle may be stopped to determine compliance with this chapter. However, a vehicle, the contents of a vehicle, the driver of a vehicle, or a passenger in a vehicle may not be inspected, searched, or detained solely because of a violation of this chapter.” * * *

Did Officer Eastwood's inquiry, during a traffic stop for a seat belt violation, regarding a “large, unusual bulge” in the defendant's pocket, cross the line? The State relies on our decision in State v. Washington, 898 N.E.2d 1200, 1207-08 (Ind. 2008), to contend that Officer Eastwood's inquiry was entirely proper because under Section 11, an officer may ask a motorist whether he or she has weapon on his person. However, Washington did not involve a seat belt stop; the defendant was stopped for, inter alia, repeatedly driving a moped left of center. Id. The language of the Act and subsequent case law clearly dictate that in adopting the Act, the Legisla-ture intended the statute to limit, rather than expand, police authority with respect to seat belt en-forcement stops and sought to circumscribe the power of police to use a seat belt stop as an opportunity to inspect, search, or detain on other grounds, even if constitutional law would permit such police behavior. See Baldwin, 715 N.E.2d 332. Given the language of the Act itself, the Attorney General's own position in Baldwin interpreting that language, and the case law, the Act simply does not permit investigatory behavior based solely on a seat belt violation unless cir-cumstances arise after the stop that independently provide the officer with reasonable suspicion of other crimes. * * *

There will, of course, be circumstances where something more than an “unusual bulge” will be visible, or other conditions that provide a police officer with the requisite reasonable sus-picion to conduct further inquiry. This is not one of them. And even if the facts were such that Officer Eastwood's questioning about the bulge was proper, the fact remains that Richardson's production of a valid gun permit should have resulted in the termination of any further question-ing. * * *

The State contends in the alternative that even if the initial arrest of Richardson was not based upon sufficient probable cause, Richardson's own conduct created separate probable cause to arrest him for forcibly resisting arrest and battery on a law enforcement officer. Specifically, the State maintains that the legality of the initial arrest was an issue that was rendered moot once Richardson elected to fight and kick the officers while they tried to peacefully place him under arrest.

At common law, a person was privileged to resist an unlawful arrest. See Gross v. State, 186 Ind. 581, 583, 117 N.E. 562, 564 (1917). Our courts, however, have uniformly accepted that this common law rule is outmoded in today's modern society. * * * In 1976, the Legislature, recognizing this modern trend, enacted the resisting law enforcement statute, Indiana Code section 35-44-3-3, which makes it a crime to “(1) forcibly resist[], obstruct[], or interfere[] with a law enforcement officer or a person assist-ing the officer while the officer is lawfully engaged in the execution of the officer's duties[.]” * * *

Here, the record is insufficient to permit us to give the issue presented by the State the meaningful appellate review deserved, and we will not reweigh the evidence in the absence of a detailed and complete record. Upon remand, the trial court should consider whether there is sufficient evidence supporting the State's theory that Richardson's actions of forcibly resisting arrest and battery upon a law enforcement officer were severable of-fenses independent of the seat belt search that warrant prosecution.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 3, 2010 04:40 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions