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Morris v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

November 21, 2018

Jason M. Morris, Appellant-Defendant,
State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff.

          Appeal from the Elkhart Superior Court The Honorable Gretchen S. Lund, Judge The Honorable Eric Ditton, Magistrate Trial Court Cause No. 20D04-1708-CM-1593

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Donald R. Shuler Barkes, Kolbus, Rife & Shuler, LLP Goshen, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Justin F. Roebel Supervising Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          Robb, Judge.

         Case Summary and Issues

         [¶1] After Jason Morris was convicted and sentenced in city court, he sought a trial de novo in superior court. Following a bench trial, the trial court found Morris guilty of public indecency, a Class A misdemeanor, and sentenced him to one year executed. This case presents three issues for our review: (1) whether the evidence is sufficient to sustain Morris' conviction; (2) whether the trial court abused its discretion by imposing a harsher sentence than the city court; and (3) whether Morris' sentence is inappropriate in light of the nature of the offense and his character. Concluding the evidence is sufficient to support Morris' conviction, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing Morris, and Morris' sentence is not inappropriate, we affirm.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2] In April 2016, Morris picked up fourteen-year-old M.Mc. for an arranged sleep over with his stepdaughter, M.M. Morris was accompanied by a friend, Leann, and his younger daughter. Before returning to his house, Morris dropped his younger daughter off at a class and then drove to Goshen General Hospital so Leann could drop something off. Morris parked near the main entrance of the hospital and Morris and M.Mc. remained in his truck while Leann went inside. M.Mc. asked Morris for a cigarette and he asked M.Mc. what she was "going to do for it[?]" Transcript, Volume II at 41. Morris began discussing a 2015 pool party that Morris, his wife, M.Mc., and M.M. attended where Morris' wife had "pantsed him[, ]" and M.Mc. caught a glimpse of Morris' penis. Id. at 40. Morris asked M.Mc. if she "liked seeing [his penis]" and asked her if she would mind seeing it again. Id. at 41. After M.Mc. declined, Morris unzipped his pants and exposed his penis. Id. Although M.Mc. was sitting in the back seat of the truck, she testified that she saw Morris' genitals when he exposed himself to her. M.Mc. looked away, stated she needed to use the restroom, and the two went inside the hospital. After M.Mc. used the restroom, Leann was ready and the three left.

         [¶3] M.Mc. then went to Morris' home for the sleepover with M.M., revealed the incident to M.M., and attempted to contact her mother. The next day, Morris' wife confronted M.Mc. and accused her of stealing cigarettes. Ultimately, M.Mc. went home early, but prior to leaving, someone in Morris' family "threatened to kill [her] family if [she] said anything." Id. at 46. Because M.Mc. was "distraught, shaking, upset, and crying" when she returned, her mother took her to see her therapist and M.Mc. disclosed the incident, which the therapist then reported to child protective services. Brief of Appellee at 7; see also Tr., Vol. II at 67, 77

         [¶4] In December 2016, the State charged Morris with public indecency, a Class A misdemeanor. Morris was first tried in in Goshen City Court on May 25, 2017, and was found guilty of public indecency and sentenced to a one-year suspended sentence with reporting probation. Morris subsequently sought a trial de novo by filing a notice of appeal and the case was transferred to the Elkhart Superior Court. Following a bench trial on June 4, 2018, during which M.Mc. testified, the trial court found Morris guilty and sentenced him to one year executed in the county jail. Morris now appeals.

         Discussion and Decision I. Sufficiency of the Evidence

         [¶5] Morris challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction. Specifically, he contends his conviction was based solely on M.Mc.'s testimony, which he alleges was "not substantively corroborated by other evidence in the record" and her "mere allegations[, ]" absent corroborating evidence, do not satisfy the burden of proof. Appellant's Brief at 10.

         [¶6] Our standard of review for sufficiency of the evidence claims is well settled. D.J. v. State, 88 N.E.3d 236, 241 (Ind.Ct.App. 2017). Upon review, we do not reweigh the evidence or judge the credibility of the witnesses. Purvis v. State, 87 N.E.3d 1119, 1124 (Ind.Ct.App. 2017). We consider only the evidence most favorable to the verdict and the reasonable inferences drawn therefrom. Id. We will affirm a defendant's conviction if "there is substantial evidence of probative value supporting each element of the crime from which a reasonable trier of fact could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." Stewart v. State, 866 N.E.2d 858, 862 (Ind.Ct.App. 2007).

         [¶7] To convict Morris, the State was required prove each element of public indecency beyond a reasonable doubt. Ind. Code § 35-41-4-1(a). "A person who knowingly or intentionally, in a public place . . . appears in a state of nudity with the intent to arouse the sexual desires of the person or another person . . . commits public indecency, a Class A misdemeanor." Ind. Code § 35-45-4-1(a)(3).

         [¶8] After the bench trial, ...

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