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Indiana Supreme Court: 2 Opinions Clarify Criminal Statutes, 1 Addresses Adoption
Posted in Litigation

The Indiana Supreme Court issued three opinions on Wednesday, April 9.

In Graham v. State, the Indiana Supreme Court reversed the defendant’s conviction of misdemeanor “resisting.”  In Graham, the defendant was standing on his porch when ordered by officers to surrender and put his hands up.  When Graham refused and turned to go back inside his house, the officers fired “bean bag” rounds at his legs to bring him down.  Once down, Graham refused to present his arms for cuffing.  The question on appeal was whether this conduct was sufficient to support a finding that Graham “forcibly” resisted.

The appeal in Graham gave the Court an opportunity to revisit its opinion in Spangler v. State, 607 N.E.2d 720 (Ind. 1993).  In Spangler, the Court held that because the statute defining resisting, Indiana Code section 35-44-3-3(a)(1), uses the phrase “forcibly resists, obstructs, or interferes,” there must be “strong, powerful, [or] violent means . . . used to evade a law enforcement official’s rightful exercise of his or her duties.”  In Spangler, the Court held that a defendant’s refusal to accept service of process, and walking away from an officer, was not “resisting.”  On the other hand, as the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded in Johnson v. State, 833 N.E.2d 516 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005), a defendant who “stiffened up” when police attempted to put him in a police vehicle had committed “forcible resistance.”  Here, the Court concluded that Graham’s conduct did not rise even to the level of “stiffening,” and held that the evidence was insufficient to support the conviction.  Jonathan Bont, a student at the Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis, successfully argued the case on Graham’s behalf.

In Matter of the Adoption of Infants H., the Court reversed a Hamilton County court’s order approving a New Jersey resident’s adoption of twin girls brought to Indianapolis for their birth by a South Carolina woman who had been inseminated with biological material from California.  The Court first explained that venue in Hamilton County was improper under Indiana Code sections 31-19-2-2 and 31-19-2-3, and that the Department of Child Services or its designee had not given prior written approval of the adoption, as required by Indiana Code section 31-19-7-1(a)

According to the Court, though, the most egregious error was that the girls’ adoption did not comply with the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, of which both Indiana and New Jersey are parties.  The Compact, the Court explained, requires “complete and accurate information regarding children and potential adoptive parents [to be provided] from a sending state to a receiving state and [the involvement of] public authorities in the process in order to ensure children have the opportunity to be placed in a suitable environment.”  Here, the Court stated, “there is nothing in the record that the adoption court had been notified in writing by New Jersey state authorities that the ‘proposed placement does not appear to be contrary to the interests of the child.’”  The Court reversed the final order of adoption for want of compliance with the Compact, and remanded with directions to comply with the Compact and thereafter issue judgment accordingly.

Finally, in State v. Manuwal, the Indiana Supreme Court unanimously held that statutes that prohibit operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated – Indiana Code sections 9-30-5-1(b) and 9-30-5-2 – apply “when a motorist is driving on public or private property, including property owned by the motorist.”  In Manuwal, the defendant successfully moved to suppress evidence at trial by arguing that his operation of an all-terrain vehicle on his own private property did not impact the public safety and should not be subject to charges.  The Indiana Supreme Court reversed, concluding that the legislature clearly intended the OWI statutes to apply, regardless of where the defendant’s driving occurs.



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