Spearman v. State, No. 49A04-0006-CR-261.

Docket NºNo. 49A04-0006-CR-261.
Citation744 N.E.2d 545
Case DateMarch 06, 2001
CourtCourt of Appeals of Indiana

744 N.E.2d 545

Nathaniel SPEARMAN, Appellant-Defendant,
v.
STATE of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff

No. 49A04-0006-CR-261.

Court of Appeals of Indiana.

March 6, 2001.

Rehearing Denied April 24, 2001.


744 N.E.2d 546
Catherine M. Morrison, Wolf & Morrison, P.C., Indianapolis, IN, Attorney for Appellant

Karen M. Freeman-Wilson, Attorney General of Indiana, Thomas D. Perkins, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, IN, Attorneys for Appellee.

OPINION

KIRSCH, Judge

Nathaniel Spearman appeals his conviction for unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon,1 a class B felony. On appeal he raises the following issue, which we restate as: whether the trial court violated Spearman's rights to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution when it denied Spearman's motion to bifurcate portions of the proceedings.

We affirm.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On the evening of September 28, 1999, officers of the Indianapolis Police Department responded to the report of an altercation between Spearman and Michael Hardin at Hardin's mother's home. When the police officers arrived, Hardin told them that Spearman had brandished a gun and then placed it in the trunk of the car in which he had arrived at the home. With Spearman's consent, the police officers searched the car and found a handgun in the trunk.

Spearman was arrested. Because Spearman had a previous conviction for criminal confinement, the State charged him with unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon.2 A second charge, pointing a firearm at another person,3 as a class D felony, was dismissed prior to Spearman's trial.

Three days prior to trial, Spearman moved for bifurcated proceedings so that the jury would not be told of his criminal confinement conviction before it determined whether he was in possession of a firearm. The trial court denied the motion. Spearman raised the issue again in an oral motion at the commencement of his jury trial. After a considerable amount of discussion by the judge and attorneys out of the presence of the jury, the trial court confirmed its prior ruling and ordered the cause to be tried without bifurcation. Record at 116-19, 121.

During the jury trial, Spearman stipulated that he had been convicted of criminal confinement in Marion Superior Court on February 4, 1999. Id. at 175. The jury convicted Spearman of possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon. He now appeals.

DISCUSSION AND DECISION

On appeal, Spearman contends that his right to due process was violated when the trial court did not conduct bifurcated proceedings. Specifically, he maintains that trying him under circumstances that allowed his prior felony conviction for criminal confinement to be introduced during

744 N.E.2d 547
the trial violated his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. We disagree

In 1999, the legislature enacted IC XX-XX-X-X to proscribe the unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon. P.L. 247-1999, SEC. 1. The statute defines "serious violent felon" and lists 26 crimes that constitute serious violent felonies. In pertinent part, IC XX-XX-X-X provides as follows:

(a) As used in this section, "serious violent felon" means a person who has been convicted of:
(1) committing a serious violent felony in:
(A) Indiana;
. . .
(b) As used in this section, "serious violent felony" means:
. . .
(7) criminal confinement (IC XX-XX-X-X);
. . .
(c) A serious violent felon who knowingly or intentionally possesses a firearm commits unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon, a Class B felony.4

Spearman's bifurcation argument rests, in part, on our court's approval of bifurcation when a defendant is charged as an habitual offender and in cases where prior convictions serve to elevate a present crime or enhance the penalty for a present conviction. See Shelton v. State, 602 N.E.2d 1017, 1019-20 (Ind.1992) (bifurcation where prior conviction used by jury to adjudge the defendant an habitual offender); Landis v. State, 693 N.E.2d 570, 571-72 (Ind.Ct.App.1998), aff'd, 704 N.E.2d 113 (Ind.1998) (bifurcation where prior conviction served to elevate current offense); Johnson v. State, 544 N.E.2d 164, 168 (Ind. Ct.App.1989), trans. denied (bifurcation required where prior conviction used to enhance a present conviction). Spearman correctly notes that evidence of prior convictions is generally inadmissible because such evidence "`has no tendency to establish the guilt or innocence of the accused'" during the phase to determine whether the defendant is guilty of the underlying felony. Shelton, 602 N.E.2d at 1019 (quoting Lawrence v. State, 259 Ind. 306, 310, 286 N.E.2d 830, 832 (1972)); see also Landis, 693 N.E.2d at 571; Johnson, 544 N.E.2d at 168. The only effect of such evidence during the determination of guilt or innocence is to "`prejudice or mislead or excite the minds and inflame the passions of the jury.'" Shelton, 602 N.E.2d at 1019 (quoting Lawrence, 259 Ind. at 310, 286 N.E.2d at 832); see also Landis, 693 N.E.2d at 571; Johnson, 544 N.E.2d at 168.

While bifurcation is appropriate in the above circumstances, the rationale for inadmissibility of prior convictions breaks down when the evidence of the prior conviction not only has the "tendency" to establish guilt or innocence but also is essential to such determination. Our supreme court has stated:

"The admission or rejection of evidence is not a matter of judicial grace. It is a legal right. To be admissible, evidence must logically tend to prove a material fact. Accordingly, evidence of prior crimes is generally inadmissible in a criminal case, because it has no tendency to establish the guilt or innocence of the accused. . . . Evidence of prior crimes is admissible, however, if it is relevant to some issue in the case, such as intent, motive, knowledge, plan, identity, or credibility. . . . The admissibility
744 N.E.2d 548
of prior convictions in such cases is justified only by their relevance to the issues. The undesirable tendency to prejudice remains, but the overriding interests of the State in arriving at the truth prevails."

Lawrence, 259 Ind. at 309-10, 286 N.E.2d at 832-33 (citations omitted); see also Johnson, 544 N.E.2d at 168 (evidence of other crimes may be offered to show the defendant's intent, motive, knowledge, malice, sanity, scheme or plan, or capacity to commit the offense, or the criminal actor's identity).

The Indiana General Assembly has prohibited those convicted of a serious violent felony from knowingly or intentionally possessing a firearm. IC XX-XX-X-X. The legal status of the offender is an essential element of the crime, and the act—the possession—is illegal only if performed by one occupying that status. This is a very different situation from one in which the act itself is illegal without regard to the status of the offender, from one where the level of the illegal act is elevated based upon the offender's status, and from one where the punishment for the illegal act is enhanced based upon the offender's status. In each of these other instances, it is possible to bifurcate the trial because the jury can reasonably perform its function of determining whether the defendant committed an illegal act without hearing evidence of the defendant's legal status or prior crimes. Here, such bifurcation is not possible because the jury cannot determine if the defendant committed an illegal act without hearing such evidence.

It is not practical, or even possible, to bifurcate the proceedings in this case. Before trial, the State dropped the charge of pointing a handgun. The only charge Spearman faced was as a serious violent felon who knowingly or intentionally possessed a firearm. The court could not hold a guilt phase as to the possession of a firearm before holding a guilt phase regarding the existence of a prior conviction that constitutes a serious violent felony because, without more, one is not "guilty" of possession of a firearm. The court could not tell the jury that the defendant is charged with possessing a firearm because that in and of itself is insufficient to constitute a crime. In the absence of the serious violent felony conviction there is no unlawful possession component.

Federal law contains a statute similar to IC XX-XX-X-X. Under federal law, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon is a crime. 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). In interpreting this statute, various federal courts of appeal have reasoned that because the prior conviction is an element of a crime, the prior conviction need not be, and in most cases should not be, bifurcated from the possession of the firearm element. See United States v. Mangum, 100 F.3d 164, 171 (D.C.Cir.1996); United States v. Jacobs, 44 F.3d 1219, 1222-23 (3rd Cir.1995), cert. denied, 514 U.S. 1101, 115 S.Ct. 1835, 131 L.Ed.2d 754 (1995); United States v. Barker, 1 F.3d 957, 959 (9th Cir.1993), modified on denial of reh'g, 20 F.3d 365 (9th Cir.1994); United States v. Birdsong, 982 F.2d 481, 482 (11th Cir.1993), cert. denied, 508 U.S. 980, 113 S.Ct. 2984, 125 L.Ed.2d 680 (1993); United States v. Collamore, 868 F.2d 24, 27-28 (1st Cir.1989); see also United States v. Aleman, 609 F.2d 298, 310 (7th Cir.1979), cert. denied, 445 U.S. 946, 100 S.Ct. 1345, 63 L.Ed.2d 780 (1980) (prior conviction allowed as element of crime of being a felon in possession of a firearm).

Although only persuasive, the federal courts' reasoning is helpful to our analysis. In Collamore and Barker, defendants were each charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) or its predecessor. Both defendants moved for, and the trial courts granted, bifurcation of the "possession" element from the "felon" element of the crime. On appeal, the First Circuit and Ninth Circuit, acting under their mandamus powers, reversed their respective trial courts and held that the trial...

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25 practice notes
  • Carter v. State, No. 0506
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • July 1, 2002
    ...suggestion would have been unenforceable because a defendant cannot be forced to plead guilty. See id. at 184. In Spearman v. Indiana, 744 N.E.2d 545 (Ind.App.), transfer denied, (Ind.2001), the Indiana Court of Appeals found persuasive Collamore and other federal cases holding that bifurca......
  • Carter v. State, No. 73
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • May 14, 2003
    ...a bifurcation of a criminal charge, trying certain elements to the bench and the remaining elements to the jury"); Spearman v. Indiana, 744 N.E.2d 545, 548-50 (Ind.App. 2001) (citing Collamore and holding that bifurcation was not permissible); Alaska v. McLaughlin, 860 P.2d 1270, 1277, 1278......
  • McAnalley v. State, Court of Appeals Case No. 18A-CR-1099
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • October 18, 2019
    ...case law and the removal of the serious violent felon terminology:] And the Court does rely on the language in Spearman [v. State , 744 N.E.2d 545 (Ind. Ct. App. 2001), trans. denied ] that, you know, for–the legislature passed this law and the Court's not been presented with any specific l......
  • Bayes v. State, No. 17A03-0203-CR-79.
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • November 27, 2002
    ...generally inadmissible because such evidence "`has no tendency to establish the guilt or innocence of the accused.'" Spearman v. State, 744 N.E.2d 545, 547 (Ind.Ct.App. 2001) (quoting Lawrence v. State, 259 Ind. 306, 310, 286 N.E.2d 830, 832 (1972)). However, Indiana Code section 35-47-4-5 ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
25 cases
  • Carter v. State, No. 0506
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • July 1, 2002
    ...suggestion would have been unenforceable because a defendant cannot be forced to plead guilty. See id. at 184. In Spearman v. Indiana, 744 N.E.2d 545 (Ind.App.), transfer denied, (Ind.2001), the Indiana Court of Appeals found persuasive Collamore and other federal cases holding that bifurca......
  • Carter v. State, No. 73
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • May 14, 2003
    ...a bifurcation of a criminal charge, trying certain elements to the bench and the remaining elements to the jury"); Spearman v. Indiana, 744 N.E.2d 545, 548-50 (Ind.App. 2001) (citing Collamore and holding that bifurcation was not permissible); Alaska v. McLaughlin, 860 P.2d 1270, 1277, 1278......
  • McAnalley v. State, Court of Appeals Case No. 18A-CR-1099
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • October 18, 2019
    ...case law and the removal of the serious violent felon terminology:] And the Court does rely on the language in Spearman [v. State , 744 N.E.2d 545 (Ind. Ct. App. 2001), trans. denied ] that, you know, for–the legislature passed this law and the Court's not been presented with any specific l......
  • Bayes v. State, No. 17A03-0203-CR-79.
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • November 27, 2002
    ...generally inadmissible because such evidence "`has no tendency to establish the guilt or innocence of the accused.'" Spearman v. State, 744 N.E.2d 545, 547 (Ind.Ct.App. 2001) (quoting Lawrence v. State, 259 Ind. 306, 310, 286 N.E.2d 830, 832 (1972)). However, Indiana Code section 35-47-4-5 ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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