Flying Gravel, a Weed Whacker and an Imaginary Handgun: Behind the Scenes of a Felony Jury Trial

Sometimes, against all odds, two people who are each having a really bad day manage to find each other. When they do, sparks tend to fly. In the worst of these cases, criminal charges end up getting filed. If you’ve ever found yourself on the wrong side of one of these altercations, you know how important it is to have an experienced criminal defense attorney in your corner.

An Indianapolis landscaper recently found himself in just this sort of trouble: Following an confrontation with a stranger, he wound up facing two criminal charges: (1) intimidation where defendant draws or uses a deadly weapon as a Level 5 felony; and (2) battery resulting in bodily injury as a Class A misdemeanor. Formal criminal charges have a way of making things sound more dire and life-threatening than they actually were. This case, for example, involved a heated disagreement over a weed whacker. Fortunately, the defendant made the smart choice and hired the Marc Lopez Law Firm.

Here’s the story: The defendant—a hardworking family man, by all accounts—had been going about his landscaping work when an angry neighbor had interrupted and begun yelling at him. The neighbor had accused the defendant of using his weed whacker to send gravel bits flying into his house and vehicle. The defendant had denied the allegations, and because it’s hard to have a civil disagreement over the noise of a running weed whacker, things seem to have escalated pretty quickly from there.

In an exchange that was captured on video, the two men kept moving closer and closer. An independent witness, in fact, described them as having gotten so close to each other’s face that it looked as if they were going to kiss—except for all the hollering, of course. After the men had screamed at each other for a moment, the defendant had had enough. “Back off,” he’d told the neighbor. “I have a weed eater, here. Back off!”

The neighbor had not backed off and instead had responded with tough-guy bluster. To his credit, even on the witness stand at trial, he confirmed that his response in the moment had been, “I’m not scared of a weed eater—hit me with it.” And so a bluff was called, shins were whacked, and blood was drawn. This is how the defendant came to be charged with battery resulting in bodily injury.

Perhaps having recognized that the situation had turned ugly, the defendant was now preparing to leave. He told his client that he was unable to complete service on their yard, and as he was walking to his truck, he said to the neighbor: “I’ve got a weapon, leave me alone.” Up to this point in the narrative, everyone pretty much agrees on the facts; after this point, eyewitness accounts begin to diverge pretty significantly.

At trial, the neighbor testified under oath that the defendant had then gone to his truck, fetched a handgun, cocked it, tucked it into his waistband, and verbally threatened the neighbor before departing. The defendant denies all of this. An independent witness reported that the defendant had indeed mentioned a weapon but hadn’t produced one. The unsubstantiated allegation of gun-waving is how the defendant came to be charged with intimidation where defendant draws or uses a deadly weapon.

The intimidation charge was serious business, because a Level 5 felony carries a maximum penalty of six years in jail and a $10,000 fine. Any alleged crime involving a deadly weapon is bound to catch the State’s eye, and prosecutors routinely look to tack on sentencing enhancements and seek out the greatest possible punishment in order to make examples out of unlucky people. After depositions in this case were taken, the best the State was willing to offer was a Level 6 felony Plea Agreement with the possibility of misdemeanor sentencing following two successful years of Probation. Quite understandably, the defendant was unwilling to plead guilty to a make-believe felony and instead requested a jury trial date as soon as possible. The State, in turn, was granted not one—not two—but three jury trial continuances over the defendant’s objections. On the eve of trial, the State made a final offer: Plead guilty to Level 6 felony battery and admit a firearm was involved, and receive misdemeanor sentencing with one year of Probation. Because of his insistence that no gun was actually present, the defendant opted not to cop to the false charge.

Following a day-long trial on September 4, 2019, the jury took less than an hour to acquit the defendant of the bogus felony intimidation charge. It did, however, convict him of misdemeanor battery. Generally speaking, it’s unreasonable to hit someone with a weed whacker (even when they’re literally asking for it). Defense attorneys obviously want to win on every count, but like the song says, Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong. Even if everybody was a little bit wrong in this case, at least no one’s going home with a felony on their record. That may not be a total victory, but it’s still a victory worth celebrating.

The Marc Lopez Law Firm, based in the heart of Indianapolis, Indiana represents the criminally accused throughout the State of Indiana. Give us a call at 317 632 3642 if you or a loved one are facing criminal charges.