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Johnson v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

April 19, 2017

Matthew L. Johnson, Appellant-Defendant,
v.
State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff.

         Appeal from Hendricks Superior Court. Cause Nos. 32D04-1508-F2-18, 32D04-1507-F4-18 The Honorable Mark A. Smith, Judge.

          Attorney for Appellant Brian J. Johnson Danville, Indiana Attorneys for Appellee

          Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Justin F. Roebel Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          Shepard, Senior Judge

         [¶1] New legislation limits the use of lower-level felony convictions in determining whether a new crime can be sentenced under the habitual offender scheme. We apply our best reading of these recent amendments to the case of appellant Matthew L. Johnson.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2] Johnson brings this interlocutory appeal from the trial court's order denying his objection to habitual felony offender enhancement charges. The State has charged Johnson under two cause numbers. One case alleges seven felonies that range from Level 2 to Level 6. The other alleges three felonies, ranging from Level 4 to Level 6. The State filed identical habitual offender allegations in each cause. The habitual allegation was that Johnson had been convicted of Class D felonies in 2001, 2005, 2006, and 2008. Johnson objected to the habitual counts on grounds that under new legislation all lower-level felonies must have occurred during the last ten years. The trial court overruled his objection, and certified this new question of criminal law for interlocutory appeal.

         Analysis

         [¶3] This novel sentencing question requires statutory interpretation, and as such presents a question of law reviewed de novo. Sloan v. State, 947 N.E.2d 917 (Ind. 2011). The primary goal of statutory interpretation is to effectuate legislative intent. Allen v. Allen, 54 N.E.3d 344 (Ind. 2016). In criminal cases, where we are attempting to fulfill legislative intent, we also incorporate the rule of lenity-interpreting the statute in the defendant's favor to the extent the language can provide such support. Day v. State, 57 N.E.3d 809 (Ind. 2016).

         [¶4] Indiana's provisions on enhancing standard sentences for felonies have evolved over time from a statute that was both strict and simple, to the versions before us in this case.

         [¶5] The original version of the habitual charge said rather straightforwardly:

The state may seek to have a person sentenced as an habitual offender for any felony by alleging, on a page separate from the rest of the charging instrument, that the person has accumulated two (2) prior unrelated felony convictions. A person who is found to be an habitual offender shall be imprisoned for an additional fixed term of thirty (30) years, to be added to the fixed term of imprisonment imposed under section 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7 of this chapter. Ind. Code § 35-50-2-8; P.L. 340-1977, SEC. 121.

         [¶6] Our supreme court resolved a challenge to the definition of "unrelated, " making clear in Erickson v. State, "The term 'unrelated felony' does not mean a felony of unlike kind, but [rather] not related to the instant felony in the sense that it is not connected to it as part of the res gestae of the instant crime." 438 N.E.2d 269, 273 (Ind. 1982). If so, the trial court was directed to add a flat thirty years to whatever sentence it imposed for the current crime.

         [¶7] Subsequent versions of the habitual offender law authorized trial courts to add fewer than the thirty-year standard term. Beginning with Public Law 210-1980, SEC. 1, courts were given discretion to reduce the thirty-year habitual offender term by up to twenty-five years if ten years or more had elapsed since the offender was discharged from probation, imprisonment, or ...


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