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Thursday, March 03, 2016

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court decides one today

In Newland McElfresh v. State of Indiana, a 14-page, 5-0 opinion, Justice David writes:

While Newland McElfresh was in jail awaiting his guilty plea hearing, he wrote an intimidating and coercive letter to the mother of the child victim who was the subject of the child molestation charges McElfresh was intending to plead guilty to. The letter and the surrounding circumstances provided sufficient evidence to support a conviction for attempted obstruction of justice. A reasonable trier of fact could have concluded that McElfresh’s intent in sending the letter was an attempt to influence the child into changing her prior allegations against him before the court accepted his guilty plea. Regardless of whether some of the statements within the letter were true, true statements may still be coercive and sufficient to support an obstruction of justice conviction. We also hold that the trial court should have considered McElfresh’s participation in various programs while incarcerated as a mitigating factor, but any error was harmless. As such, McElfresh’s conviction for attempted obstruction of justice and sentence are affirmed. * * *

McElfresh appealed his convictions and sentence. The Court of Appeals held that there was insufficient evidence to support McElfresh’s conviction for attempted obstruction of justice, explaining that “McElfresh essentially told T.W.’s mother that if T.W. intended to lie under oath, she would face legal consequences for the dishonesty. That is simply the truth. We cannot believe that in the State of Indiana it can constitute a crime to make a true statement, even if the subject matter of the true statement involves the future testimony of a witness in a criminal proceeding.” McElfresh v. State, 40 N.E.3d 1259, 1262 (Ind. Ct. App. 2015), vacated. The court also held that because there was no evidence that A.W. talked to T.W. upon McElfresh’s direction, the communication was incomplete. Id. at 1263-64. The invasion of privacy conviction was vacated, and the case remanded with instructions to enter a judgment for attempted invasion of privacy. Id. The court did not address McElfresh’s sentencing argument, but rather instructed the trial court to enter a new sentence based only on the conviction for attempted invasion of privacy. Id. at 1264.

This Court granted transfer, thereby vacating the Court of Appeals opinion. Ind. Appellate Rule 58(A). We summarily affirm the Court of Appeals only on the issue of vacating the invasion of privacy conviction and ordering a judgment of Class A Misdemeanor Attempted Invasion of Privacy be entered. See Ind. Appellate Rule 58(A)(2). * * *

Conclusion. We hold that there was sufficient evidence to support McElfresh’s conviction for attempted obstruction of justice. We also hold that the trial court failed to properly acknowledge a mitigating factor, but that any error was harmless. We affirm McElfresh’s sentence of 600 days. This case is otherwise remanded in accordance with the Court of Appeals opinion, directing that McElfresh’s conviction for invasion of privacy be vacated, and a judgment of conviction on attempted invasion of privacy be entered. We instruct the trial court to resentence McElfresh on attempted invasion of privacy, but advise that both sentences should continue to run consecutively to McElfresh’s sentence in cause 32D03-1211-FC-000144.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 3, 2016 03:13 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions