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Williams v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

August 26, 2016

Dorothy Williams, Appellant-Defendant
v.
State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff.

         Appeal from the LaPorte Superior Court The Honorable Michael S. Bergerson, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 46D01-1411-F5-433

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Jennifer L. Koethe LaPorte, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Gregory F. Zoeller Attorney General of Indiana Angela N. Sanchez Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          Najam, Judge.

         Statement of the Case

         [1] Dorothy Williams appeals from her conviction for disorderly conduct, as a Class B misdemeanor, following a jury trial. She asserts on appeal that there is insufficient evidence to support her conviction because her conviction was based on political speech, which Williams raised as an affirmative defense under article 1, section 9 of the Indiana Constitution. Where, as here, the defendant is not the original subject of a police investigation, [1] the defendant demonstrates that her expression was unambiguous political speech when she shows that the focus of her speech exclusively concerned government action. Such speech must both be directed at state actors and refer to state actors or their conduct. Speech directed toward a private party or that refers to a private party, or the conduct of a private party, is politically ambiguous for purposes of an affirmative defense under art. 1, sec. 9. And when the focus of speech is politically ambiguous, a reasonable fact-finder may reject the asserted affirmative defense.

         [2] If the defendant does not meet her burden of showing that her speech was unambiguously political, the State's impairment of her speech-e.g., the defendant's arrest for disorderly conduct-is constitutional so long as the State acted rationally in impairing the speech. However, if the defendant meets her burden of showing unambiguous political speech, the burden shifts to the State to demonstrate that the defendant's exercise of her speech was an abuse of her right to that expression. While the words used by the defendant do not matter to this analysis, the State can meet this heightened burden in either of the following circumstances: (1) the defendant's volume had more than a fleeting interference with a private interest, [2] or (2) the defendant interfered with an ongoing police investigation.[3]

         [3] Here, during her encounter with police at her home, Williams directed some of her speech toward her neighbors, and she repeatedly referred to herself and her own conduct during the encounter. Accordingly, the focus of her speech was politically ambiguous for purposes of the art. 1, sec. 9 affirmative defense, and the fact-finder was free to reject Williams' affirmative defense. As her speech was politically ambiguous, the State's impairment of her speech was constitutional so long as it was rational. And it was here: the State presented evidence that some of her neighbors, while in their homes, were actually alerted to Williams' encounter with police by the volume of her speech, and the State further showed that numerous officers diverted their attention away from the task at hand because of Williams' speech. Accordingly, we affirm Williams' conviction for disorderly conduct, as a Class B misdemeanor.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [4] Around 6:00 a.m. on November 21, 2014, six to ten officers of the Michigan City Police Department went to Williams' residence on Highland Avenue to serve an arrest warrant on Robert Sanders, Jr. Sanders is Williams' brother, and, according to his driver's license records, Sanders lived at Williams' residence. Williams' minor niece, V.G., also lived at that residence, as did Williams' elderly and disabled mother, Rady Sanders. Rady is paralyzed from the waist down, and Williams is responsible for Rady's care.

         [5] Detective William Henderson knocked on Williams' front door, and Williams answered. Detective Henderson asked Williams if Sanders was at the residence and informed Williams that he had an arrest warrant for Sanders. Williams "started yelling" and said that Sanders was not there. Tr. at 59. Williams appeared "verbally and completely irate that [the officers] were there" and repeatedly told the officers that Sanders "didn't live there." Id. at 60. When Detective Henderson asked for permission to enter the residence to ensure that Sanders was not present, Williams "slammed the door in [his] face." Id.

         [6] Detective Henderson "continued to try and [make] verbal contact" with Williams over the next ten to fifteen minutes. Williams "continued yelling" at him in response. Id. at 61. Detective Henderson then contacted a prosecutor and requested a search warrant.

         [7] Pursuant to protocol, while they awaited the search warrant Detective Henderson instructed the other officers at the scene "to make sure that [they] maintained a solid perimeter and nobody came in or out" of the residence. Id. at 62. Detective Henderson requested the presence of additional officers to assist with maintaining that perimeter. Shortly thereafter, fifteen to twenty officers total were maintaining a perimeter around Williams' residence. The officers used unmarked vehicles and did not activate any vehicular emergency lights or sirens.

         [8] At approximately 7:00 a.m., Williams and V.G. exited the front door of the residence. Williams walked V.G. through the police perimeter to a nearby car, which took V.G. to her school. When Williams walked back towards her residence, Detective Henderson stopped her at the police perimeter and informed her that he could not let her reenter the residence "for safety reasons" because, first, once a person exits a surrounded residence, "it's one less person [the officers] have to worry [about] that has access to any firearms[] or anything that could harm [others], " and, second, if the subject of the search warrant is inside the residence, the person who has come outside can "see where [the officers] are tactically around [the residence], so if [the subject] were to try to plan any assault . . . [the officers will have] given up [their] positions . . . ." Id. at 140-41.

         [9] "After informing her of that, " Williams grew "irate" and began "yelling, screaming, [and] cussing" at the officers. Id. at 65. Detective Henderson asked her to "please be quiet" "several times, " to no avail. Id. at 140. Officers informed Williams that she was not under arrest, and Williams loudly asked, "You mean to tell me you are not going to let me enter my motherf***ing house?" Id. at 66. Williams then loudly declared, "I'm going back in my house, " and that she was "going back in here to see about my mother, you know my mother's in here and she's sick, I'm going back in here to see her." Id. at 297-98. When informed that she would be arrested for disorderly conduct if she continued her loud outburst, Williams loudly informed the officers that she "doesn't care about going to jail." Id. at 66.

         [10] In response to Williams' outburst, her neighbors came out of their nearby residences to see what was going on "like there was a show." Id. at 68, 155. When officers continued to deny Williams reentry into her residence, Williams loudly asked the officers how they could "deny my right to go back in my own home" when she had not committed any crime and was not under arrest. Id. at 275. Williams then proceeded to "tell my neighbors to look and see ...


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