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Batchelor v. State

Supreme Court of Indiana

March 18, 2019

Christapher Batchelor Appellant (Defendant)
v.
State of Indiana Appellee (Plaintiff)

          Argued: October 4, 2018

          Appeal from the Clay Circuit Court No. 11C01-1512-F6-890 The Honorable Joseph D. Trout, Judge

          On Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals No. 11A01-1707-CR-1574

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Stacy R. Uliana Bargersville, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Larry D. Allen Stephen R. Creason Andrew A. Kobe Deputy Attorneys General Indianapolis, Indiana

          OPINION

          MASSA, JUSTICE.

         The purpose of a jury instruction "is to inform the jury of the law applicable to the facts without misleading the jury and to enable it to comprehend the case clearly and arrive at a just, fair, and correct verdict." Campbell v. State, 19 N.E.3d 271, 277 (Ind. 2014). Because the challenged instruction here fell short of this objective, we disapprove of its use going forward. But because we find that the jury charge, as a whole, cured the instructional defect, and because the evidence clearly sustained the defendant's conviction, we affirm the trial court.

         Facts and Procedural History

         On a rainy, mid-December evening, Clay County Deputy Sheriff James Switzer noticed Christapher Batchelor driving without a seatbelt. As the deputy approached him from behind at a four-way stop, Batchelor reached over to fasten his seatbelt before signaling and turning left. The deputy, driving in a marked police cruiser, then activated his emergency lights. But Batchelor failed to immediately stop. For the next minute and thirty-eight seconds, Batchelor passed a gas station and wound his way through a well-lit residential area at about thirty-five miles per hour, making complete stops at two intersections and passing several illuminated side streets along the way. Even as other vehicles came to a stop during this low-speed pursuit, and despite the piercing ring of the deputy's siren, Batchelor simply kept driving. When the deputy directed his LED spotlight onto the truck's side and rearview mirrors, Batchelor finally pulled over into a gravel parking spot on the side of the road.

         As Batchelor exited his truck, the deputy ordered him to the ground. Batchelor initially complied. But as the deputy approached to arrest him, he resisted, and a struggle ensued. It took two more backup officers to finally subdue Batchelor. In the end, the deputy injured his ankle, one of the back-up officers jammed his finger, and another received a black eye.

         The State charged Batchelor with three crimes: Level-6 felony resisting law enforcement by fleeing, Level-6 felony battery on a police officer, and Class-A misdemeanor resisting arrest. See Indiana Code §§ 35-44.1-3-1(a)(3), (b)(1)(A) (2014) (felony resisting); I.C. §§ 35-42-2-1(b)(1), (d)(2) (2014) (felony battery); I.C. § 35-44.1-3-1(a)(1) (2014) (misdemeanor resisting).

         At the conclusion of evidence at trial, the State proposed several jury instructions, including one which defined the act of fleeing, as that term applied to the felony-resisting charge. Under that instruction-Instruction 22-a person "flees" when he or she "attempts to escape from law enforcement or attempts to unnecessarily prolong the time before the person must stop." App. Vol. III, p.71. Instruction 22 also required the State to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the "defendant acted with the intent to escape" or, in the alternative, that a "reasonable driver in the Defendant's position" would have stopped sooner. Id.

         After summarizing all proposed final jury instructions, the trial court asked the parties, "We good?" Tr. Vol. III, p.98. Defense counsel responded "Yeah" while the prosecution replied with "No objection." Id.

         In his closing arguments, Batchelor claimed that he had not attempted to flee, as there was no high-speed chase, it was dark, it was raining, and the gravel parking spot where he stopped was "a good and safe place to pull over." Tr. Vol. III, pp. 108-09. He also argued self-defense, claiming the deputy had used unlawful force in subduing him. But the State argued that Batchelor was fleeing, citing the numerous places he could have stopped, the well-lit streets, and the lack of evidence supporting a reasonable safety concern.

         Following deliberations, the jury found Batchelor guilty on all counts and the trial court entered judgment of conviction. Batchelor appealed, arguing that Instruction 22 expanded the definition of fleeing, which invaded the province of the jury and diminished the State's burden of proof.

         In a unanimous opinion, our Court of Appeals reversed the felony-resisting conviction while affirming all other convictions. Batchelor v. State, 97 N.E.3d 297, 305 (Ind.Ct.App. 2018), vacated. The panel concluded that the jury instruction, by allowing a conviction based on what a "reasonable driver" would have done, permitted the State to convict Batchelor on a civil negligence standard, resulting in fundamental error. Id. at 303. Both parties unsuccessfully sought rehearing.

         We granted the State's petition to transfer and now address Batchelor's claim of instructional error as it relates to his felony-resisting conviction. Because he fails to explain how this error affected his felony-battery and misdemeanor-resisting convictions, we summarily affirm those convictions.

         Standard of Review

         We generally review a trial court's jury instruction for an abuse of discretion. Kane v. State, 976 N.E.2d 1228, 1231 (Ind. 2012). Under this standard, we look to whether evidence presented at trial supports the instruction and to whether its substance is covered by other instructions. Id. at 1230-31. When the appellant challenges the instruction as an incorrect statement of law, we apply a de novo standard of review. Id. at 1231. We reverse the trial court only if the instruction resulted in prejudice to the defendant's "substantial rights." Hernandez v. State, 45 N.E.3d 373, 376 (Ind. 2015).

         Discussion and Decision

         A person commits the crime of resisting law enforcement, a Level 6 felony, when that person, using a vehicle, "knowingly or intentionally . . . flees from a law enforcement officer" after that officer has, "by visible or audible means, including operation of [a] siren or emergency lights, identified himself or herself and ordered the person to stop." I.C. § 35-44.1-3-1.

         Although the felony-resisting statute offers no definition of the term "flees," our Court of Appeals offered some guidance in Cowans v. State, 53 N.E.3d 540 (Ind.Ct.App. 2016), trans. not sought. There, the court affirmed the defendant's resisting-by-fleeing conviction, rejecting as a mistake of law his belief that he could delay stopping for police due to safety concerns. Id. at 543. See Yoder v. State, 208 Ind. 50, 58, 194 N.E. 645, 648 (1935) (reciting the longstanding principle that "ignorance of the law excuses no man") (internal quotation marks omitted). In speculating that the defendant was "far from alone" in his mistaken belief, the Cowans panel decided to "address some of the underlying issues" of that case, issues "likely to reoccur for other citizens of Indiana." 53 N.E.3d at 543. While finding "no express sanction" in the resisting statute for delaying a stop due to safety concerns, the panel concluded that a driver with an "adequate justification" may still "have some discretion to choose the location of a stop." Id. at 544 (citing Woodward v. State, 770 N.E.2d 897, 902 (Ind.Ct.App. 2002) (acknowledging that a driver may have an "adequate justification" for "choos[ing] the location of the stop" but affirming the defendant's resisting-by-fleeing conviction based on sufficient evidence), trans. denied).

         Based on this conclusion, the Cowans panel determined that a defendant charged with resisting would be entitled to a jury instruction defining the word "flee." Id. at 545-46. This definition, the panel opined, should explain "that if a reasonable driver in the defendant's position would have felt unsafe to come to an immediate halt, and if the defendant took reasonable steps to increase the safety of the stop without unnecessarily prolonging the process, then the defendant was not fleeing." Id. at 546.

         Instruction 22 tracks this language from Cowans:

A person who fails to stop his vehicle promptly "flees" law enforcement when the person attempts to escape from law enforcement or attempts to unnecessarily prolong the time before the person must stop. It is an issue in this case whether the Defendant attempted to escape or unnecessarily prolonged the time before stopping. The burden is on the State to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:
(1) The defendant acted with the intent to escape, or
(2)A reasonable driver in the Defendant's position would not have felt unsafe under the facts of this case to come to an immediate halt, or
(3)[I]f a reasonable driver in the Defendant's position would have felt unsafe to come to an immediate halt, the driver would ...

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