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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Ind. Decisions - Two opinions this morning from the Supreme Court

In Andre Peoples v. State of Indiana, a 7-page, 5-0 opinion, Justice Sullivan writes:

Defendant Andre Peoples pled guilty in 2008 to dealing cocaine after having had accumulated two prior unrelated felonies, one for dealing cocaine and one for forgery. The general rule of law is that individuals who have been convicted of three unrelated felonies of any kind are eligible for enhanced sentences as “habitual offenders.” But a special rule enacted in 2001 limits the use of certain substance offenses in making this calculation. At issue in this case is whether Defendant’s instant dealing offense is to be counted in calculating the total number unrelated felony convictions an individual has for drug dealing. We hold that it does.
ILB: This is interesting. The Court writes:
In 1977, the Legislature authorized enhanced sentences for “habitual offenders,” individuals who had been convicted of three unrelated felonies. [IC 35-50-2-8 (Supp. 1977)]. In 2001, the Legislature restricted use of the “habitual offender statute to enhance further the sentences imposed for a plethora of . . . drug-related felonies.” Mills v. State, 868 N.E.2d 446, 451 (Ind. 2007). Public Law 291, section 226 specifically limits instances when a drug offense can be counted for habitual offender purposes. See 2001 Ind. Acts 2786-87 (codified as I.C. § 35-50-2-8(b)(3)(C) & (d)(3)(C) (Supp. 2001)).

Under the 1977 statute, a single felony drug conviction had counted as one of the three requisite felonies to qualify an offender for a habitual offender enhancement. After the 2001 amendment, two felony drug convictions were required. Thus, the Legislature’s action required a greater degree of recidivist behavior before a drug offender could be adjudicated a habitual of-fender. Because the 2001 amendment was contained in the bill enacting the biennial state budget, the change may have reflected a concern over the fiscal impact of incarcerating drug offenders. * * *

When the State filed Defendant’s habitual offender charge, he had accumulated one felony drug conviction. But we do not read the language of sub-section (a) to preclude the State from filing habitual offender charges with respect to a defendant who, if convicted on the underlying charges, will have accumulated two unrelated felony drug convictions by the time habitual offender proceedings commence. After all, subsection (a) was written in 1977, but subsections (b)(3)(C) and (d)(3)(C) were written in 2001 by the conference committee on the budget bill.[6] It is not surprising that the provisions do not mesh perfectly. But their thrust is unmistakable: while a single felony drug conviction is not enough to qualify a person for habitual offender status, a second such conviction is, be it a prior conviction or the instant offense.

We affirm the trial court’s habitual offender enhancement of Defendant’s sentence.

Shepard, C.J., and Dickson, Boehm, and Rucker, JJ., concur.
[6] See Indiana General Assembly House Bill 1001 Archive (2001), http://www.in.gov/apps/lsa/session/billwatch/billinfo?year=2001&session=1&request=getBill&docno=1001 (last visited June 24, 2010) (providing legislative history of this provision).

ILB: This language could be taken to demolish any arguments in future case that there are any limits to what can be "rolled into" the budget bill.

In Myron Owens v. State of Indiana, a 5-page, 5-0 opinion, Justice Boehm writes:

The Indiana habitual offender statute enhances the penalty for crimes by offenders with two prior unrelated felony convictions, but counts only certain offenses as prior felonies. We hold that a conspiracy to deal conviction is not equivalent to a dealing conviction for the purposes of this statute.
Owens was listed in this ILB entry yesterday. It was argued Dec. 10, 2009. Peoples was argued Jan. 7, 2010.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 29, 2010 10:14 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions