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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court issues two today

In Michael C. Armstrong v. State of Indiana, an 8-page opinion, Justice Rucker writes:

We hold today that a driver of a vehicle who leaves the scene of an accident resulting in injury or death may be held criminally responsible even if the driver’s vehicle did not strike the injured or deceased party. * * *

Considering the wording of the statute along with this Court’s assessment of the statute’s predecessor, Armstrong had fair warning that his conduct—failing to stop after an accident resulting in death—was criminal. Therefore the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment does not bar Armstrong’s prosecution for this offense. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

In Alfred G. Nelson v. State of Indiana, a 3-page opinion, Justice Rucker writes:

[Nelson's] argument was premised upon Honeycutt v. State, 760 N.E.2d 648 (Ind. Ct. App. 2001), a case in which a panel of the Court of Appeals declared that “the legislature limits the scope of [Indiana Code section 9-26-1-1] to incidents involving a vehicle striking something that causes injury to someone, or a vehicle striking a person and causing injury.” Id. at 651. Because there was no evidence that the victim in that case had been struck by the defendant’s vehicle, the court reversed the defendant’s conviction, declaring that Indiana Code section 9-26-1-1 did not apply. The Court of Appeals in this case declined to follow Honeycutt. Instead the court relied upon Armstrong v. State, 818 N.E.2d 93 (Ind. Ct. App. 2004), in which a different panel of the Court of Appeals also declined to follow Honeycutt. * * *

In an opinion handed down today, we adopted that portion of Armstrong interpreting Indiana Code section 9-26-1-1. Armstrong v. State, No. 26S05-0606-CR-212, slip op. at 5, ___N.E.2d___, ___, (Ind. June 15, 2006). In doing so we “disapprove the contrary interpretation of the statute announced in Honeycutt.” Id. However, we disagreed with our colleagues [on the Court of Appeals] on the question of retroactivity. We held instead that “the central question to be asked in deciding whether retroactive application of a judicial decision violates due process is whether the defendant had fair warning that his conduct was criminal at the time he engaged in it.” Id., slip op. at 7. Based on the wording of the statute along with this Court’s assessment of the statute’s predecessor we concluded that, “Armstrong had fair warning that his conduct—failing to stop after an accident resulting in death—was criminal.” Id., slip op. at 8. We reach the same conclusion here. The Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, made applicable to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, did not bar Nelson’s prosecution for this offense. We now grant transfer and affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 15, 2006 11:54 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions