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Paquette v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

June 21, 2017

Brian L. Paquette, Appellant-Defendant,
v.
State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff

         Appeal from the Pike Circuit Court The Honorable Jeffrey L. Biesterveld, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 63C01-1602-F3-373

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT Mark A. Bates Schererville, Indiana Thomas W.Vanes Merrillville, Indiana.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Tyler G. Banks Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana.

          VAIDIK, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Case Summary

         [¶1] While high on methamphetamine and fleeing from police, Brian Paquette collided with two other vehicles, killing three people and seriously injuring another. The State filed nine charges against Paquette with regard to the deceased victims: three counts each of resisting law enforcement by fleeing in a vehicle causing death, operating a vehicle with methamphetamine in his blood causing death, and reckless homicide. Paquette agreed to plead guilty to all nine charges but reserved the right to argue that only one conviction and sentence for resisting (the most serious charge, a Level 3 felony) should be entered because all three deaths resulted from a single act of resisting. The trial court rejected that argument and entered three convictions and three consecutive sentences on the resisting counts (and merged the remaining, lower-level counts). Paquette appeals, renewing his argument. Because only one conviction is permissible under this Court's longstanding interpretation of the resisting-law-enforcement statute, we remand this matter to the trial court with instructions to enter convictions for operating a vehicle with methamphetamine in his blood causing death (a Level 4 felony) as to two of the three deceased victims and to resentence Paquette accordingly.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2] On the night of February 12, 2016, Paquette was high on methamphetamine and driving northbound in the southbound lanes of I-69 near Petersburg. When Indiana State Trooper James Manning tried to stop him, Paquette crossed the median and began driving southbound in the northbound lanes. He collided with a car occupied by Stephanie Molinet and Autumn Kapperman and then with an SUV occupied by Jason and Samantha Lowe. Molinet, Kapperman, and Jason Lowe died, and Samantha Lowe was seriously injured.

         [¶3] The State charged Paquette with three crimes relating to each of the deceased victims: resisting law enforcement by fleeing in a vehicle causing death, a Level 3 felony; operating a vehicle with methamphetamine in his blood causing death, a Level 4 felony; and reckless homicide, a Level 5 felony. He was also charged with operating a vehicle with methamphetamine in his body causing serious bodily injury, a Level 6 felony, with regard to Samantha Lowe, and possession of methamphetamine, a Level 6 felony.[1] Paquette agreed to plead guilty on all of these charges but reserved the right to ask the court to enter only one conviction and sentence for the most serious charge, resisting law enforcement, because he engaged in only one act of resisting. The parties briefed the issue, and the trial court ruled that three separate convictions and sentences are permissible. However, the court also ruled that Paquette would have the right to appeal the issue.

         [¶4] The court entered convictions on all three counts of resisting law enforcement and on the charge of operating a vehicle with methamphetamine in his body causing serious bodily injury. The court merged the remaining counts (three counts of operating a vehicle with methamphetamine in his blood causing death, three counts of reckless homicide, and possession of methamphetamine) into those four counts. The court imposed the maximum sentence of sixteen years for each count of resisting law enforcement and the maximum sentence of two-and-a-half years for operating a vehicle with methamphetamine in his body causing serious bodily injury, all consecutive, for a total of fifty-and-a-half years.

         [¶5] Paquette now appeals.

         Discussion and Decision

         [¶6] Paquette contends that Indiana's resisting-law-enforcement statute, Indiana Code section 35-44.1-3-1, allows only a single resisting conviction under the facts of this case and that the trial court therefore erred by entering three convictions and sentences against him. The interpretation of a statute is a question of law that we review de novo. State v. Smith, 71 N.E.3d 368, 370 (Ind. 2017). We agree with Paquette's reading of the statute and remand this matter for the entry of a revised judgment and sentence.[2]

         [¶7] Subsection (a) of section 35-44.1-3-1 sets out the acts that constitute the ...


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