Benson v. State

Decision Date14 April 2022
Docket Number21A-PC-132
PartiesCharles A. Benson, Appellant-Petitioner, v. State of Indiana, Appellee-Respondent
CourtIndiana Appellate Court

Pursuant to Ind. Appellate Rule 65(D), this Memorandum Decision shall not be regarded as precedent or cited before any court except for the purpose of establishing the defense of res judicata collateral estoppel, or the law of the case.

Appeal from the Allen Superior Court Trial Court Cause No 02D05-1706-PC-66 The Honorable David M. Zent, Judge.

Appellant Pro Se Charles A. Benson New Castle, Indiana

Attorneys for Appellee Theodore E. Rokita Attorney General of Indiana Jodi Kathryn Stein Supervising Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana



[¶1] Charles A. Benson appeals following the denial of his petition for postconviction relief. He raises four issues, which we consolidate and restate as:

I. Whether the postconviction court properly denied Benson's motion for an evidentiary hearing and ordered the parties to submit evidence by affidavit; and
II. Whether the postconviction court erroneously denied Benson's petition for relief because:
a. Benson demonstrated he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel;
b. Benson demonstrated he received ineffective assistance of appellate counsel; or
c. Benson proved his claim of newly discovered evidence or a Brady violation.

We affirm.

Facts and Procedural History

[¶2] On direct appeal, we relayed the facts of Benson's offense as follows:

Around 2:00 p.m. on January 30, 2016, Officer Robert Geiger ("Officer Geiger") of the Fort Wayne Police Department was driving in his marked squad car, in full police uniform. After seeing a vehicle make an improper turn Officer Geiger initiated a traffic stop. He then approached the vehicle and asked the driver for her license and registration. The driver said she did not have her driver's license with her and eventually produced an identification card. Officer Geiger then spoke with the male passenger-later identified as Benson-and Officer Geiger noticed that Benson would not make eye contact with him. Benson identified himself as Antoine Woods.
Officer Geiger returned to his squad car to run the information he had been given. While Officer Geiger was doing so, he saw Benson step out of the vehicle and make eye contact with him. Benson had his hands positioned in front of him, toward his waistband, as though he was concealing a weapon. Benson then began running. Officer Geiger immediately ran after Benson, telling Benson to stop, and using his radio to notify dispatch of the pursuit.
Officer Geiger chased Benson, who ran by residences, a church, and an empty market. At times, there were bystanders in the area. At one point while running, Benson turned and made eye contact with Officer Geiger. Benson had a gun in his hand. Benson held eye contact with Officer Geiger, pointed the gun directly at him, and fired multiple shots. Officer Geiger dropped to the ground, called out "shots fired" over his radio, and continued chasing Benson. Officer Geiger then fired several rounds, each missing Benson.
After running through an intersection, Benson ran around one side of a house, while Officer Geiger pursued Benson from the other side. When Benson came around the house, Benson squared up his body so that he was facing Officer Geiger. Benson made eye contact with Officer Geiger, raised his gun so it pointed directly at Officer Geiger, and fired. Officer Geiger returned fire, and Benson stumbled to the ground. Benson let go of the gun, lifted his hands, and Officer Geiger kneeled on Benson to control him. Additional officers arrived, and Benson was arrested. No one was struck during the pursuit, which lasted around ninety seconds. It was later determined that Benson's gun had jammed during the shooting, and the gun contained additional rounds of ammunition.

Benson v. State, 73 N.E.3d 198, 200 (Ind.Ct.App. 2017), trans. denied.

[¶3] The State charged Benson with Level 1 felony attempted murder, [1] Level 4 felony unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon, [2] Level 6 felony criminal recklessness committed with a deadly weapon, [3] and Level 6 felony resisting law enforcement with use of a deadly weapon.[4] The State also alleged Benson was eligible for an enhanced sentence because he was a habitual offender[5] and he used a firearm in the commission of his offense.[6] The State subsequently dismissed the charge of unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon and the enhancement for using a firearm in the commission of a crime, and the trial court held a two-day jury trial.

[¶4] Attorney Quinton Ellis represented Benson at the jury trial. During voir dire, Attorney Ellis used peremptory strikes to remove a prospective juror whose boyfriend and other family friends were police officers; a prospective juror who practiced law with Karen Richards, the elected Allen County Prosecutor, twenty years prior; and a prospective juror who hesitated to say whether he or she could be impartial because several of the juror's friends were in law enforcement. Attorney Ellis did not use a peremptory strike to remove Juror 46, who stated he was friends with several police officers but nonetheless maintained he would evaluate all the evidence and form his own conclusions.

[¶5] Officer Geiger testified at trial that he saw Benson "turn back directly at" him when he started running after Benson. (D.A.[7] Tr. Vol. I at 152.) Officer Geiger went on to explain, Benson "wasn't completely squared up with me, but he was facing me, making eye contact with me, with his body angled towards me, and I noticed a weapon in his hand, which was a silver pistol at that time, and he fired multiple shots at me." (Id.) Officer Geiger continued to chase Benson. After Benson ran around a house to attempt to evade Officer Geiger, Benson "squared up with [Officer Geiger] and raised the firearm at [Officer Geiger] and fired a shot at [Officer Geiger's] direction again while making eye contact with [Officer Geiger] again for the second time[.]" (Id. at 154.)

[¶6] Attorney Ellis questioned Officer Geiger regarding a videotaped statement he gave to Detective Cary Young of the Fort Wayne Police Department after the shooting. Attorney Ellis asked Officer Geiger about perceived inconsistencies between his testimony and the account of the incident he relayed to Detective Young. Officer Geiger testified he believed his memory was better at the time of trial than when he gave the interview with Detective Young because he further reflected on the event after giving the interview. Attorney Ellis also asked Officer Geiger questions about Benson's position when Benson shot at him. Charlene Morrow testified she was outside with her husband, Roger Morrow, [8] on January 30, 2016, when she saw a black man, later identified as Benson, get out of a vehicle that had been pulled over on Lewis Street in Fort Wayne and shoot multiple gunshots at a police officer. Roger testified he was looking down, working on a toy truck, when he heard gunshots, so he did not see who fired them.

[¶7] Officer John Drummer of the Fort Wayne Police Department responded to Officer Grieger's radio call. After Benson was handcuffed, Officer Drummer helped Benson up from the ground, and Benson said, "They were shooting at me" and "I didn't know it was you." (Id. at 217.) Officer Jeffrey Norton of the Fort Wayne Police Department also responded to the scene and heard Benson make a spontaneous statement "that he didn't know it was the police" who were chasing him. (Id. at 220.) Officers recovered a .45 caliber handgun from Benson and found two .45 caliber shell casings at the scene.

[¶8] Detective Young testified regarding his interview of Benson at the police department's headquarters after his arrest. While the State attempted to introduce into evidence a videorecording of the interview, the State withdrew the exhibit because of its poor quality and the trial court instructed the jury to disregard the portions of the video they viewed. The State then proceeded to question Detective Young about what occurred during his interrogation of Benson. Detective Young testified that, during the interrogation, Benson "said he was running and he was being shot at, that there was people after him." (D.A. Tr. Vol. II at 38.) Benson denied having a gun, and Benson told Detective Young he was not the person who shot at Officer Geiger. The jury returned guilty verdicts on the remaining counts, and the trial court sentenced Benson to an aggregate term of sixty-two and one-half years.

[¶9] Attorney Michelle Kraus represented Benson on his direct appeal. She raised one issue on appeal: "Whether fundamental error occurred by the trial court failing to give a specific jury unanimity instruction?" (D.A. Appellant's Br. at 4.) She argued the unanimity instruction given by the trial court was insufficient because while the evidence adduced at trial indicated Benson shot at Officer Geiger twice, the State only charged Benson with one count of attempted murder, and therefore, "[t]here is no way to know if the jury was unanimous [as] to which act constituted the attempted murder." (Id. at 15.) We held a special unanimity instruction was not necessary because, while Benson shot at Officer Geiger two times, each occasion was part of the same continuous crime. Benson, 73 N.E.3d at 203. Thus, we affirmed Benson's attempted murder conviction.

[¶10] Benson filed a petition for postconviction relief pro se on June 28, 2017. The Public Defender of Indiana entered an appearance on Benson's behalf shortly thereafter, but the Public Defender withdrew from the case on May 22, 2019. The State then filed a motion to require Benson to submit his...

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