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Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court decided a second case late on Monday, Nov. 5th

In Elmer J. Bailey v. State of Indiana, an 18-page, 4-0 opinion, Justice Massa writes:

When a husband shoves his wife and pokes her in the forehead repeatedly, causing her pain, is that pain alone sufficient evidence to prove the “bodily injury” element of the husband’s conviction for domestic battery? One panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals thought not, but we disagree. * * *

At his bench trial, the only evidence put forth by the State in support of either charge was Farrenquai’s testimony. Elmer denied putting his hands on Farrenquai in any way and specifically denied poking her in the forehead and shoving her. The judge found Elmer guilty of domestic battery and sentenced him to two years in prison.

Elmer appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed in an unpublished decision. Bailey v. State (Ind. Ct. App. Feb. 3, 2012). The court first held that, in order for Farrenquai to have suffered “bodily injury” sufficient to justify Elmer’s conviction, her pain “must be sufficient to rise to a level of ‘impairment of physical condition.’” Id. at 7 (quoting Ind. Code § 35-41-1-4 (2008) (recodified at § 35-31.5-2-29) (2012)).Id. It then found that Farrenquai’s testimony was insufficient evidence of this requirement. Id. at 9.5

Six days later, a different panel of the Court of Appeals presented a different view of what level of pain constitutes “bodily injury” under Indiana’s criminal provisions, this time in a published decision. Toney v. State, 961 N.E.2d 57, 59 (Ind. Ct. App. 2012). Because “bodily injury” is a concept that arises in a number of ways throughout Indiana’s criminal code, we granted transfer in Bailey to clarify its meaning, thereby vacating the unpublished decision of the Court of Appeals. * * *

Our holding today settles a question of statutory interpretation about which reasonable minds can differ. We choose this approach, in part, because we believe the alternative—requiring physical pain to rise to a particular level of severity before it constitutes an impairment of physical condition—could bring uncertainty to our relatively straightforward statutory structure. Indeed, the holding below does not define the level of pain needed to support the enhancement; instead, it surveys other Indiana cases where the pain was more obviously severe and finds Farrenquai’s lacking in comparison. Bailey, slip op. at 8–9. We think engaging in a case-by-case comparison to determine whether a victim’s pain is sufficiently significant creates unnecessary challenges not required by the statute. * * *

We do acknowledge that our approach—that a defendant commits a battery at his peril; that any degree of physical pain may constitute a bodily injury and thus enhance punishment—may raise the specter of witness coaching, whereby a victim is encouraged to say “it hurt” when, in actuality, it did not. Or that a victim may simply claim pain to enhance a charge against a defendant—a particular danger in the arena of domestic violence, where there often can only be two witnesses (the accused and the accuser), the disputes are emotionally charged and deeply personal, and trials can thus literally boil down to a heated “he said/she said.” But those are challenges of witness credibility, not statutory construction, and they are not new to criminal litigation. They are largely addressed through zealous advocacy and effective cross-examination.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on November 7, 2012 08:59 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions