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Johnson v. State

Supreme Court of Indiana

December 21, 2017

Matthew L. Johnson, Appellant (Defendant below),
v.
State of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff below).

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

         On Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 32A05-1604-CR-703

          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

          Massa, Justice.

         The legislature's view of habitual offenders has changed over time, from statutory versions strict to those more flexible. In this case, the Court is asked to interpret the habitual offender statute in one of its recently amended forms, Indiana Code section 35-50-2-8(d) (Supp. 2015). Matthew Johnson objected to the State's habitual offender allegations, claiming each lower-level felony used for habitual offender purposes must meet the statute's ten-year requirement. We agree, and reverse the trial court.

         Facts and Procedural History

         In 2015, the State charged Johnson under two cause numbers. The first alleged seven felonies ranging from Level 2 to Level 6. The second alleged three felonies, one Level 4 and two Level 6s. Then, in each cause, the State filed identical habitual offender allegations. The State alleged that, pursuant to Indiana Code section 35-50-2-8(d), Johnson was a habitual offender based on Class D felony convictions in 2001, 2006, 2007, and 2009. Johnson objected, arguing each of the underlying lower-level offenses must meet the ten-year requirement in subsection 8(d)(2). The trial court overruled Johnson's objection to the habitual offender enhancement, but certified its order for interlocutory appeal.

         The Court of Appeals accepted jurisdiction and reversed, finding convictions from which an offender was released more than ten years prior to the current offense do not count for habitual purposes, but those less than ten years do count. Johnson v. State, 75 N.E.3d 549, 552-53 (Ind.Ct.App. 2017). Thus, the court remanded the case to examine Johnson's offenses alleged for habitual purposes. Id.

         We granted the State's petition to transfer, thereby vacating the Court of Appeals opinion. Ind. Appellate Rule 58(A).

         Standard of Review

         We review issues of statutory interpretation de novo. ESPN, Inc. v. Univ. of Notre Dame Police Dep't., 62 N.E.3d 1192, 1195 (Ind. 2016). "Our first task when interpreting a statute is to give its words their plain meaning" by considering the text and structure of the statute. Id. If the statute is ambiguous, we will determine and give effect to the legislature's intent. J.D.M. v. State, 68 N.E.3d 1073, 1077 (Ind. 2017).

         The Unambiguous Language of the Habitual Offender Statute Requires Each Prior Unrelated Lower-Level Felony Used for Habitual Purposes to Meet the Ten-Year Requirement.

         For years the Indiana legislature has periodically amended the habitual offender statute to be more lenient. Under the 2015 version-the version under which the State charged Johnson-a person ...


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