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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court decides one today, 3-2

In Kenyatta Erkins v. State of Indiana, a 20-page 3-2 opinion, Justice David writes:

Following his conviction for class A felony conspiracy to commit robbery resulting in serious bodily injury, Kenyatta Erkins presents us with a matter of first impression: whether the State must establish the existence of serious bodily injury for his conviction to stand. Without actual serious bodily injury to his alleged victim, he reasons, there is insufficient evidence to support his conviction. However, because conspiracy is a crime consisting of intent to commit an underlying crime, an agreement between or among conspirators to commit the underlying crime, and an overt act by one of the conspirators in furtherance of the agreement, the State needed only to prove these elements beyond a reasonable doubt to support Erkins’s conviction. We find that the State met its burden and affirm Erkins’s conviction.

Erkins also claims that the trial court erred by permitting the State to amend the charging information on the second day of trial to reflect that a co-conspirator, and not he, committed the overt act. However, because the precise identity of the conspirator committing the overt act is not essential to the conspiracy charge, the amendment was one of form and not substance. As the amendment did not impact Erkins’s ability to prepare his defense, we conclude that the trial court did not err in permitting the change. * * *

[I. Amendment to Charging Information] Based on the evidence available to Erkins before the beginning of his trial, it would have come as no surprise to him that the State would attempt to prove that it was in fact Ojile who conducted the surveillance on S.M. inside the Grand Victoria Casino, and the mistaken placement of his name on the charging information would not have affected his ability to prepare his defense. We thus conclude that the State’s amendment was one of form, and that the trial court did not err in permitting it. * * *

[II. Sufficiency of the Evidence] Based on the probative evidence and reasonable inferences supporting the verdict, we conclude that a reasonable fact-finder could find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Erkins intended and agreed with Ojile to rob and seriously injure S.M. in the course of the robbery, and that Ojile’s surveillance of S.M. at the Grand Victoria Casino and the men’s possession of guns and potential robbery tools at the time of their arrests constituted overt acts in furtherance of their agreement. Thus, sufficient evidence underlies Erkins’s conviction for class A felony conspiracy to commit robbery resulting in serious bodily injury.

Conclusion. While under three different forms of surveillance, Erkins and Ojile expressed their intent and agreement to rob and seriously injure S.M., and the men performed overt acts in furtherance of their agreement. The State therefore presented sufficient evidence at trial to support Erkins’s conviction for class A felony conspiracy to commit robbery resulting in serious bodily injury. And because the particular identity of the conspirator performing the overt act is not essential to the conspiracy charge, the trial court did not err in permitting the State’s amendment of form to Erkins’s charging information. Accordingly, we affirm Erkins’s conviction.

Massa and Rush, J.J., concur.
Rucker, J., concurs in part and dissents in part with separate opinion in which Dickson, C.J., joins.

[J.Rucker's opinion begins, on p 17] The majority declares: “Whether the State must establish the actual existence of serious bodily injury in order to convict a defendant of class A felony conspiracy to commit robbery resulting in serious bodily injury is an issue of first impression before this Court.” Slip op. at 10 - 11. I agree the precise question has not been previously presented to us. However, our existing case authority as well as familiar tenets of statutory construction compels the conclusion that the State must prove the existence of serious bodily injury in order to convict a defendant of class A felony conspiracy to commit robbery. I therefore respectfully dissent from the majority’s contrary view.

Central to this discussion is that serious bodily injury is not an element of the offense of robbery. Instead it is a penalty enhancement that increases the class of the offense from a C to an A felony. “The primary purposes of statutorily enhanced penalties for robbery resulting in bodily injury [or serious bodily injury] include deterring those who would commit robbery from in any way harming their victims, and protecting society from those persons who demonstrate the propensity to harm the victims of their crimes.” Payne v. State, 484 N.E.2d 16, 19 (Ind. 1985). In consequence, for the completed offense of robbery the State is required to prove serious bodily injury in order to enhance the offense to a class A felony. * * *

In this case the State failed to prove that Erkins’ conspiracy to rob the victim resulted in serious bodily injury justifying an enhancement. I would therefore vacate his conviction as a class A felony and remand this cause with instructions to enter judgment as a class C felony and to resentence accordingly. In all other respects I concur in the majority opinion.

Dickson, C.J., joins.
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[ILB kudos for footnote 4, wherein the majority clearly delineates the issues not vacated in granting the petition to transfer] [4] Erkins and Ojile also raised issues relating to the admission of evidence gathered after they left the casino, the admission of testimony interpreting the slang used in their phone conversations, and prosecutorial misconduct during closing arguments. Additionally, Ojile asserted that his counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to argue the defense of abandonment. The Court of Appeals properly resolved each issue, and we summarily affirm those portions of its opinion pursuant to Ind. Appellate Rule 58(A).

Posted by Marcia Oddi on July 22, 2014 12:10 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions