There’s no question that this year is one for the history books. But some criminal defendants in Indiana made history for other reasons. Here are three of the most intriguing criminal defense stories of 2020 and what we can learn from them.
- The Indiana Supreme Court finds that a woman had the right to refuse the police’s request to unlock her cell phone
In 2017, Hamilton County police obtained search warrants to compel Carmel resident, Katelin Seo, to hand over her cell phone and unlock the passcode. They believed the phone held evidence supporting stalking and harassment charges against her.
Seo refused to unlock the phone, arguing that forcing her to unlock her phone violated her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. In particular, she claimed that the police didn’t know whether the evidence they were looking for was on her phone and that by unlocking it, she would be helping the police search for incriminating evidence against her. A lower court found Seo in contempt, but when Seo appealed, the Indiana Court of Appeal sided with her.
In June 2020, the Indiana Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals. Reversing the contempt of court, the Court stated that: “By unlocking her smartphone, Seo would provide law enforcement with information it does not already know, which the State could then use in its prosecution against her… The Fifth Amendment’s protection from compelled self-incrimination prohibits this result.”
Lessons Learned: The police can’t compel you to unlock your electronic device when they cannot show that the information they’re looking for exists on your device. If the police have asked you to unlock your device to search for evidence, you should speak to a criminal defense attorney to assess whether the police violated your constitutional rights.
- Woman becomes eligible for compensation because of a wrongful conviction.
In February 1996, Kristine Bunch of Decatur County, Indiana, was convicted of arson and felony murder after a fire in her mobile home claimed the life of her 3-year old son. She was released from prison in 2012 after the Court of Appeals of Indiana reversed the conviction upon finding that a key witness had fabricated and withheld critical information during her trial.
In October 2020, Indiana Criminal Justice Institute’s Board of Trustees found Kristine Bunch eligible for compensation for her 17-years of wrongful imprisonment. State law permits exonerated people who are “actually innocent” to receive up to $50,000 for every year in prison.
Lesson Learned: If you have been exonerated for a crime and are “actually innocent” of that crime, you might be entitled to compensation for the years you spent in prison.
- Indiana Court of Appeals reverses man’s resisting arrest conviction.
In October 2019, the police approached Torrance Jackson, Jr. on suspicion of public intoxication. They instructed him to sit down and remove his hands from his pockets. Jackson refused, leading a police officer to remove Jackson’s hands and handcuff him. Jackson was later found guilty of forcibly resisting arrest.
In November 2020, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed his conviction, finding that Jackson’s refusal to remove his hands from his pocket did not constitute forcible resistance, as there was not enough evidence to support that Jackson physically resisted.
Lesson learned: While it’s better to cooperate with the police instructions when under arrest, refusing to comply with instructions to remove your hands from your pocket does not constitute resisting arrest if you didn’t use physical force. If you have been charged with resisting arrest under similar circumstances, speak to a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer with Razumich & Associates as soon as possible.