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Snow v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

December 29, 2016

Summer C. Snow, Appellant-Defendant,
State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff.

         Appeal from the Lake Superior Court Trial Court Cause No. 45G01-1412-F5-42 The Honorable Salvador Vasquez, Judge

          Attorney for Appellant P. Jeffrey Schlesinger Office of the Public Defender Crown Point, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Gregory F. Zoeller Attorney General of Indiana Katherine Modesitt Cooper Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          Brown, Judge.

         [¶1] Summer C. Snow appeals her convictions for battery against a public safety official as a level 5 felony and resisting law enforcement as a level 6 felony. Snow raises one issue which we revise and restate as whether the trial court abused its discretion in admitting testimony regarding a handgun. We affirm.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2] At approximately 4:50 a.m. on November 30, 2014, Gary Police Officer Terry Peck responded to a domestic incident at a house in Gary, Indiana. When Officer Peck arrived at the house, he was met by Snow, who reported that her boyfriend, Reginald Harris, was in the back seat of her car parked on the driveway and that he refused to leave. Officer Peck asked Snow if Harris owned the car or stayed at the house, and Snow replied "no, he doesn't own the car, that it was her house." Transcript at 64. Officer Peck also asked Snow "if she had any - if he had any weapons and she stated no." Id. He and Snow then walked up to the car. Officer Peck opened the rear door of the car and told Harris that he needed to leave the car, Harris argued with him, Officer Peck said that if he did not leave he would be arrested for criminal trespass, and Harris still refused to exit the vehicle. Officer Peck placed his hand on Harris's arm and urged him to exit the car, and Harris grabbed Officer Peck's wrist, pulled him halfway into the car, and struck him in the face, the side of his body and head, and his arms. When Harris pulled Officer Peck into the vehicle, Snow started to shout and cheer Harris on, saying "[f]--- that white boy up, " "I'm taping this s---, " and "beat his a--." Id. at 75. Officer Peck broke free from Harris, pulled him from the car, placed him on the ground, handcuffed him, and placed him in his police vehicle.

         [¶3] Officer Peck then told Snow to stop shouting and to be quiet and asked for her identification, and she refused. He told Snow to return inside her house and that, if she did not, she would go to jail for disorderly conduct. Snow turned and walked towards her house while still shouting at Officer Peck, who walked to the passenger side of Snow's car to retrieve his flashlight and look for the vehicle's registration, and he heard what sounded like the front door of the house close and assumed Snow had entered her house. Officer Peck walked toward the back of Snow's car and toward his police vehicle, and Snow was back there and shouting loudly at him again. He warned Snow three times that she may be arrested for disorderly conduct, and Snow said that she "dared [his] b---- a-- to arrest her." Id. at 82. He ordered Snow to place her hands on the car, and she refused and started to shout "[t]hey're abusing me. Somebody tape this s---" at the top of her lungs. Id. He tried to grab Snow's wrists, and she pulled away from him and placed or tucked her hands underneath her sweatshirt or the light jacket she was wearing. He tried to grab her wrist and place her against her vehicle, and she swung at him.

         [¶4] As Officer Peck struggled to control Snow, she struck him in the shoulders and side of the head, scratched his chin, and kicked him in the thigh. At one point during the altercation, Snow was able to jump on Officer Peck's back, was wrapped up around him, and started to bite his shoulder. He threw Snow off and pushed her into her car, which seemed to stun her a little bit although she was still fighting and trying to swing, and he was able to grab hold of one of her arms and place that arm into handcuffs. At that time, Officer Peck felt an object fall and hit his knee and the top of his boot. Officer Peck initially thought it was his "flashlight or a magazine that she might have knocked off of [his] vest, " that he and Snow "struggled a little bit longer, " and that he "was able to finally subdue her enough to get her in handcuffs." Id. at 86. "She was still trying to turn and kick, but by then she was in handcuffs and she couldn't - she was just difficult to handle, but she wasn't striking [Officer Peck] anymore." Id. Corporal John Artibey arrived at the scene and observed Officer Peck attempting to place Snow into handcuffs, that she was pulling away at the time, and that he believed Officer Peck had one cuff on Snow. As Officer Peck placed handcuffs on Snow, Corporal Artibey walked up through the yard, and as he approached to escort her away from the vehicle he noticed a handgun on the ground where both Officer Peck and Snow were standing. Snow admitted that the gun belonged to her.

         [¶5] The State charged Snow with two counts of battery against a public safety official as level 5 felonies, resisting law enforcement as a level 6 felony, and disorderly conduct as a class B misdemeanor.[1] Snow filed a motion in limine to prohibit the State from making any reference to or seeking to elicit from any witness that a weapon was found at the scene during the incident.

         [¶6] Prior to the start of the joint jury trial, the court heard arguments on the motion in limine to prohibit any reference that a weapon was found at the scene. The State argued that "it is relevant that she was actually carrying a weapon on her when she was wrestling with Officer Peck" and that, "given the fact that I do believe they plan on using self-defense or some sort of defense, I think it's pertinent the gun actually shows some sort of aggression on the part of the defendant." Id. at 4, 7. The State further argued that "Officer Peck is going to testify that he asked Summer Snow to go inside the house and that it was under his belief that she did walk inside the house" and "[s]o it is relevant that possibly she could have went in there and got a weapon and had it on her when she was wresting [sic] with him." Id. at 7. In response, Snow's counsel argued that Officer Peck had no reason to believe Snow had a gun, that he was not acting the way he acted because he thought he was in fear for his life, and "[s]o his actions and the relevance and whether or not they were reasonable, the gun plays no . . . part in that determination for the jury." Id. at 8. The State replied that it was "not arguing that . . . it goes towards his state of mind in knowing that she had a gun, " that "one of their defenses for that - any kind of scuffle between the cops could be them defending themselves from the cops is what I'm saying, " and that "the fact that a gun was found shows that perhaps they were more of an aggressor rather than one of defense." Id. at 8-9.

         [¶7] The court asked "[s]o there's going to be testimony that they were aggressive, " and the State responded affirmatively. Id. at 9. The court then asked "[a]nd your theory is that the aggressiveness on behalf of - I guess, let's say - to be clear, we're talking about Snow - is because she was - in your theory, at least - that she was trying to conceal a weapon in her possession, " and the State answered: "Yes. I believe that would show more for an offensive rather than a defense position, in terms of what happened with the scuffle." Id. at 9-10. The court found that, "[g]iven the State's proffer, " it did not believe that "the prejudicial value substantially outweighs the probative nature of the information, " "particularly given the State's proffer that they believe that Snow was acting in the aggressive manner to perhaps conceal a weapon that could have been in possession." Id. at 10. The court further found: "A weapon that was not there at one point, certainly appears later on. I believe that the State's proffer that this is significantly probative of the defendant's action is enough no [sic] allow the information to go before the jury." Id. The court denied the motion in limine with respect to the request to prohibit any reference that a weapon was found at the scene.

         [¶8] During Officer Peck's trial testimony, defense counsel objected in regards to the handgun based on the arguments made during the motion in limine, and the court overruled the objection and stated that "the finding of the weapon is part of the entire incident and I see no reason to keep that information from the jury." Id. at 89-90. Officer Peck testified that he and Corporal Artibey discovered that the object that fell and hit his boot was actually a handgun. Officer Peck testified he sustained scratches to his face and a knot on his forehead, and the court admitted photographs of Officer Peck's injuries.

         [¶9] Snow testified that she was worked up because she saw Harris being attacked. She testified that Officer Peck asked for her identification and that she asked why he needed it and that she was the person who called the police. She testified that she turned around to retrieve her purse which was on the seat in her car, that as soon as she had turned around Officer Peck punched her in the back of the head, that he turned her around and continually punched her as she tried to block the punches, and that she was just defending herself. When asked her purpose of turning around, Snow replied to retrieve her identification located in her vehicle. She testified that she never attempted to pull a weapon out and that the weapon was in her purse on the front seat. When asked how the weapon ended up on the ground, she answered "[i]f I can guess at it, I will just say when our struggle ensued, that's when the purse hit - it probably shifted and the gun may have fell." Id. at 216. On cross-examination, Snow indicated that the whole purse was tipped over on the floor of her car, that everything was on the floor of the vehicle, and that the gun had fallen on the ground where she had her scuffle with Officer Peck.

         [¶10] In closing argument, the State argued in part that the gun was never in Snow's purse, that it was in her pocket the entire time, that she lied, and that "[s]he was never on the defense. She was the aggressor the entire time." Id. at 356. The jury found Snow guilty of one count of battery against a public safety official as a level 5 felony and resisting law enforcement as a level 6 felony and not guilty of the other charges. The court sentenced Snow to an aggregate term of two and one-half years with two years suspended to probation.


         [¶11] The issue is whether the trial court abused its discretion in admitting evidence of the handgun. Generally, we review the trial court's ruling on the admission or exclusion of evidence for an abuse of discretion. Roche v. State, 690 N.E.2d 1115, 1134 (Ind. 1997), reh'g denied. We reverse only when the decision is clearly against the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances. Joyner v. State, 678 N.E.2d 386, 390 (Ind. 1997), reh'g denied. We may affirm a trial court's decision regarding the admission of evidence if it is sustainable on any basis in the record. Barker v. State, 695 N.E.2d 925, 930 (Ind. 1998), reh'g denied. Even if the trial court's ...

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