Indiana Court of Appeals holds oral arguments in Switzerland County Courtroom

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It’s believed to be the first time ever, but on Wednesday morning the judges of the Indiana Court of Appeals held an official session to hear oral arguments here in Switzerland County.

A panel consisting of Chief Judge John G. Baker, Judge L. Mark Bailey, and Judge Melissa S. May will hear the case of “Derek Scott Geiger Vs. the State of Indiana – when is on appeal from Harrison County Superior Court.

This session of the Court of Appeals, which is the state’s second highest court, was arranged by Switzerland County Middle School principal Nancy Stearns. Eighth graders from Switzerland County Middle School attended the court case as a class field trip, and following the trial, had the chance to interact with the judges and ask questions about the process.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reviews appeals from trial court decisions. A decision by the Indiana Court of Appeals is final unless the case is granted a further review by the Indiana Supreme Court. The majority of appeals are decided by the Court of Appeals, which issues about 2,500 written opinions each year.

In Wednesday’s case, attorneys for both sides presented information to the three-judge panel about the case and the appeal. The court is then asked to decide at least four issues of criminal law:

– Did Derek Scott Geiger receive a fair trial?

– Did Derek Scott Geiger’s two convictions for impersonating a public servant violate the double jeopardy clause of the Indiana Constitution?

– Did the trial court err when it ordered Derek Scott Geiger’s sentence to run consecutively to another sentence?

– Was the sentence appropriate?

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The Indiana Court of Appeals began regularly hearing oral arguments at different venues across the state in 2001; and Nancy Stearns saw the opportunity for Switzerland County Middle School students to see the working of the judicial process up close and extended an invitation to the court to come to Switzerland County.

By taking the court “on the road”, the judges hope that the cases better enable residents to learn about the judicial branch of government.

The court accepts invitations from law schools, colleges, high schools, and county courthouses.

According to a portion of the synopsis of the case presented here on Wednesday, students and others heard the following case:

“On July 22nd, 2005, James and Beth Skaggs left their home in Harrison County at approximately 5:00 a.m. to drive to work. As they exited their driveway, Beth observed a Land Rover in the distance, which she considered unusual because of the early hour and the couple’s rural location. As the vehicle erratically approached the Skaggses, Beth said, ‘Honey, pull over and let these idiots pass us.’

“James and Beth immediately noticed that the vehicle had flashing blue and red lights in its front windshield, and Beth told James, ‘I bet it’s police officers.’

“James pulled over to the side of the road and two men with firearms exited the Land Rover, quickly approached the Skaggses, and yelled at them to exit their vehicle. Two other men remained near the Land Rover.

“Defendant Derek Scott Geiger approached James, pointed a nine-millimeter Glock handgun at him, told him that the men were with a narcotics drug force, and alerted him that he and his wife were under suspicion for drug dealing. Geiger, who was wearing a shirt displaying a police logo, proceeded to frisk James.

“Meanwhile, the man near Beth asked her for her identification and bankcard, and both men searched Beth’s bag and the vehicle’s glove box. Suddenly, a man near the Land Rover who appeared to be on a police radio yelled, ‘Come on, let’s go. We got a call. Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.’

“The four men immediately returned to the Land Rover and drove off.

“With Beth and James were both distressed, they did not immediately call the police because they believed that the four men had been police officers. However, when Beth told her brother-in-law about the incident later that day, he contacted the Harrison County Police Department and learned that there had not been a police stop near the Skaggses’ home that morning. After speaking with the police, James selected Geiger’s photograph from a photographic array and identified him as the man who had pointed a gun at him and frisked him during the encounter.”

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Judge John G. Baker is originally from Aurora in Dearborn County; Judge L. Mark Bailey is originally from Decatur County; and Judge Melissa S. may is originally from Elkhart, Indiana.