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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Ind. Decisions - Two today from the Supreme Court

In Thomas Dexter v. State of Indiana, an 8-page, 5-0 opinion, Justice Sullivan writes:

A jury convicted the defendant of Class A felony neglect of a dependent and found him to be a habitual offender, which resulted in a 30-year sentencing enhancement. An unsigned judgment of conviction was presented by the State to prove that the defendant in fact had been convicted of one of the predicate felonies. We reverse the defendant’s habitual-offender sentenc-ing enhancement and hold that an unsigned judgment is not sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the fact of a prior conviction. We also hold that the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment does not bar the State from retrying the defendant on the habitual-offender enhancement. * * *

[After the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court] Dexter sought transfer on his claim that the evidence was insufficient to support the jury’s finding that he is a habitual offender; the State elected not to file a response. We granted transfer to consider this issue (without ordering oral argument), Dexter v. State, 950 N.E.2d 1212 (Ind. 2011) (table), thereby vacating the opinion of the Court of Appeals, Ind. Appellate Rule 58(A). We summarily affirm the opinion of the Court of Appeals in all other respects. App. R. 58(A)(2). * * *

The State is correct that the trial judge’s failure to sign the 2000 judgment of conviction does not render that conviction void. * * *

But the State misunderstands Dexter’s claim. He is not challenging the validity of the alleged 2000 conviction. Rather, he is challenging only the collateral use of this document as proof of a prior conviction. His argument is that an unsigned order entering judgment of conviction is insufficient to prove existence of a past conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.

For almost 30 years, this Court has held that the State must introduce into evidence proper certified and authenticated records of the defendant’s prior felony convictions in order to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of those prior convictions. * * *

The issue here is not whether the State submitted documentary evidence – it clearly did – but whether the documentary evidence presented was sufficient to establish the fact of the alleged 2000 conviction.

In view of our insistence that proper documentary evidence be submitted to prove the ex-istence of a prior conviction and the important rationale underlying that rule, we hold that a judgment must be signed by the trial judge to constitute substantial evidence of probative value sufficient to sustain a habitual-offender enhancement. Accordingly, the unsigned order of judgment was not probative of the fact of Dexter’s alleged theft conviction in 2000. * * *

We reverse Dexter’s habitual-offender enhancement and remand for resentencing proceedings consistent with this opinion.

In Keith M. Ramsey, M.D., The Methodist Hospitals, Inc. v. Shella Moore, a 10-page, 5-0 opinion, Justice David writes:
In medical malpractice cases governed by Indiana’s Medical Malpractice Act, a medical review panel renders an opinion on a case before the case proceeds to a trial court. The medical review panel chairman, among other things, sets a deadline for a plaintiff’s submission of evidence to the panel. If the plaintiff fails to adhere to the deadline, a defendant can file a motion with the appropriate trial court to dismiss the medical malpractice complaint pending before the panel. This motion initiates a preliminary-determination proceeding before the trial court — a proceeding unique to medical malpractice cases.

In this case, the defendants, a doctor and hospital, filed motions for a preliminary determination, requesting that the trial court dismiss the pending medical malpractice complaint due to the plaintiff’s dilatory conduct. The trial court issued an order, denying the request, and the defendants appealed. We hold that because the trial court’s order is not a final appealable judgment, there is no subject matter jurisdiction to hear the appeal. * * *

Having previously granted transfer, we now dismiss this appeal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 12, 2012 01:31 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions