ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE:
JEFFREY P. LITTLE STEVE CARTER
Power, Little & Little Attorney General of Indiana
NANDITA G. SHEPHERD
Deputy Attorney General
COURT OF APPEALS OF INDIANA
CAMERON STRATTON, )
vs. ) No. 12A04-0206-CR-288
STATE OF INDIANA, )
APPEAL FROM THE CLINTON CIRCUIT COURT
The Honorable Linley E. Pearson, Judge
Cause No. 12C01-0103-DF-70
July 9, 2003
OPINION - FOR PUBLICATION
STATEMENT OF THE CASE
Appellant-Defendant, Cameron Stratton (Stratton), appeals from the trial courts denial of his motion
Stratton raises one issue on appeal, which we restate as follows: whether
the trial court properly denied his motion to dismiss.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Initially, Stratton was hired as a social pastor for the Living Word Ministries
Center. Frankfort Heritage Christian School was associated with the Living Word Ministries
Center. Specifically, Frankfort Heritage Christian School was founded and run by the
Living Word Ministries Center. Frankfort Heritage Christian School is a private, non-accredited
school for kindergarten through twelfth grade students.
On April 12, 2000, a meeting of the Board of Directors for the
Living Word Ministries Center was held. The minutes from this meeting show that
in order to reduce the workload of Pastor Carol Fitch, Pat Presse became
the Principal of Frankfort Heritage and Stratton became the Dean of Students of
Frankfort Heritage Christian School. Pastor Carol Fitch became the Administrator of Frankfort
Heritage Christian School. At this meeting, a motion also was passed to
formulate a non-voting advisory board for Frankfort Heritage Christian School that dealt with
discipline issues with the students. The Administrator, Principal, and Dean of Students
of Frankfort Heritage Christian School were made permanent members of this advisory board.
The other members consisted of a Frankfort Heritage Christian School teacher, three
parents, and the Parent-Teacher Fellowship President.
As Dean of Students for Frankfort Christian Heritage School, Strattons primary responsibility was
to deal with disciplinary problems and behavioral issues. When a student required
more attention than the principal was able to provide due to a disruption
in the classroom or a behavioral problem, the student was sent to Stratton.
Stratton was able to designate any discipline he thought was appropriate.
Then, Stratton was required to report the disciplinary actions to the advisory board.
If Stratton believed that further counseling was needed for a student, he
sent home a form requesting parental permission for Stratton to counsel the student.
On March 16, 2001, the State filed an information against Stratton charging him
with two counts of child seduction, Class D felonies, Ind. Code § 35-42-4-7.
On August 13, 2001, Stratton filed a Motion to Dismiss stating that
he was not an employee of Frankfort Christian Heritage School but an employee
of the Living Word Ministry Center. On October 4, 2001, the trial
court held a hearing on the motion to dismiss. After hearing evidence
on the motion, the trial court took the matter under advisement. On
October 24, 2001, the trial court denied the motion to dismiss. On
May 3, 2002, Stratton filed another Motion to Dismiss asserting that Frankfort Heritage
Christian School was not a public or private school under
I.C. § 35-42-4-7(c). Stratton also claimed that he was not a child
care worker under I.C. §
35-42-4-7 and, thus, he was improperly charged.
On May 10, 2002, a hearing was held on
the motion to dismiss. On May 16, 2002, Stratton filed a supplemental
brief in support of the motion to dismiss. However, on May 17,
2002, the trial court denied his Motion to Dismiss. In its Order,
the trial court stated, in pertinent part, the following:
The Court having heard evidence and taking the matter under advisement now finds
that [Stratton] was on the advisory board establishing the disciplinary rules and was
in charge of discipline in accordance with the established rules. [Stratton] supervised
students in detention who were sent to him for disciplinary problems. Within
such rules, [Stratton] had the discretion to make decisions without checking with [Pastor
Carol Fitch]. [Strattons] motion to dismiss is denied.
(Appellants Appendix p. 9).
On May 21, 2002, Stratton filed a Motion for Interlocutory Appeal and Certification
of Interlocutory Order. The trial court granted this motion on the same
date. On August 27, 2002, this court accepted jurisdiction of Strattons appeal.
Additional facts will be provided as necessary.
DISCUSSION AND DECISION
Stratton argues that the trial court improperly denied his motion to dismiss.
Specifically, Stratton maintains that he was not a child care worker as defined
by I.C. § 35-42-4-7(c). We disagree.
Indiana Code § 35-34-1-4 provides for the dismissal of an information on any
other ground that is a basis for dismissal as a matter of law.
See I.C. § 35-34-1-4(a)(11). Generally, when a defendant files a motion
to dismiss an information, the facts alleged in the information are to be
taken as true. State v. D.M.Z., 674 N.E.2d 585, 587 (Ind. Ct.
App. 1996), trans. denied. A trial court considering a motion to dismiss
in a criminal case need not rely entirely on the text of the
charging information but can hear and consider evidence in determining whether or not
a defendant can be charged with the crime alleged. See I.C. §
35-34-1-8. It is a function of the prosecuting attorney to make certain
that a person is not erroneously charged. State v. Gillespie, 428 N.E.2d
1338, 1339 (Ind. Ct. App. 1996). In considering a motion to dismiss,
the trial court has that same obligation. Id.
In the instant case, the State properly charged Stratton as a child care
worker under I.C. § 35-42-4-7(c). Only when a statute is ambiguous is
it susceptible to judicial interpretation. Sullivan v. Day, 661 N.E.2d 848, 853
(Ind. Ct. App. 1996). Here, the statute defines child care worker as
a person who provides care or supervision of a child within the scope
of the persons employment in a public or private school or shelter care
facility. See I.C. § 35-42-4-7(c). When the legislature defines a word,
the courts are bound by that definition. D.M.Z., 674 N.E.2d at 588.
There is no judicial interpretation unless there is ambiguity within the statute.
Id. Because I.C. § 35-42-4-7(c) is a penal statute, the term,
child care worker, is to be strictly construed against the State. Any
ambiguity must be resolved against imposing the penalty, and only those cases, which
are clearly within its meaning and intention, can be brought within the statute.
D.M.Z., 674 N.E.2d at 588.
In particular, Stratton claims that he did not provide care or supervision as
required by the definition of child care worker under I.C. § 35-42-4-7(c).
However, under I.C. § 1-1-4-1(c), this court gives undefined words in a statute
their plain, ordinary, and usual meaning. Courts may consult English language dictionaries
to ascertain the plain and ordinary meaning of a statutory term. Id.
The meaning of doubtful words may also be determined by reference to
their relationship with other associate words and phrases. Id. Therefore, we
may determine the legislatures intent by defining a word by its association with
other words in the statute. Id.
The dictionary defines care as charge, supervision, or management. websters third new
international dictionary at 338 (1993). Supervision is defined as the act, process
or occupation of supervising: direction, inspection, and critical evaluation. Id. at 2296.
In D.M.Z., this court considered the term custodian as used in
I.C. § 35-42-4-7. See D.M.Z., 674 N.E.2d at 589. We found
that because custodian was used together with guardian, adoptive parent, and stepparent, the
legislature intended custodian to mean an individual who occupies a position of trust,
authority, and responsibility in loco parentis. Id. The term child care
worker was added to the statute on January 1, 2001 and Stratton was
charged on March 16, 2001. Under the D.M.Z. analysis, we find that
the legislature also intended child care worker to mean an individual who occupies
a position of trust, authority, and responsibility in loco parentis. See id.
As stated above, Stratton was the Dean of Students at Frankfort Heritage Christian
School. Under this title, Strattons primary responsibility was to handle the disciplinary
matters of the students. Stratton was able to render any punishment that
he determined necessary and appropriate without consulting anyone of higher authority. However,
Stratton was required to report his punishment decisions to the advisory board.
Clearly, Stratton was able to discipline Frankfort Heritage Christian School students like a
parent. Therefore, we find that Stratton provided care and supervision within the
meaning of I.C. § 35-42-4-7(c). The interpretation of a statute is
not a question of fact but one of law reserved for the trial
court. Robinson v. Zeedyk, 625 N.E.2d 1249, 1251 (Ind. Ct. App. 1993),
trans. denied. Here, the trial court accepted all the material facts
in the information as true and concluded that, as a matter of law,
Stratton was a child care worker within the meaning of the child seduction
statute. Thus, we find the trial court properly denied Strattons motion to
dismiss. See I.C. § 35-34-1-8; D.M.Z., 674 N.E.2d at 587.
Additionally, Stratton argues that the charges against him are invalid because he was
not employed by Frankfort Heritage Christian School, but rather by Living Word Ministries
Center. We find that this argument lacks merit. Although the record
indicates that Stratton was paid by Living Word Ministries Center, the record also
shows that the scope of Strattons employment covered his duties as social pastor
of the Living Word Ministries Center and his duties as Dean of Students
of Frankfort Heritage Christian School. Specifically, the minutes from the Board of
Directors meeting reveal that Stratton accepted the Dean of Students position in April
of 2000 and an increase in pay. The increase in pay may
not have been related to the new position, but the evidence supports the
finding that Stratton worked as both Social Pastor and Dean of Students at
the school. Accordingly, we find that Stratton is a child care worker
as defined by I.C. § 35-42-4-7(c).
Based on the foregoing, we conclude that the trial court properly denied Strattons
motion to dismiss.
SHARPNACK, J., and BARNES, J., concur.
We note that the charging information was not included in the Appellants
Appendix. The Chronological Case Summary was the only source of information for
the charges filed by the State against Stratton.