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Paquette v. State

Supreme Court of Indiana

June 29, 2018

Brian L. Paquette, Appellant (Defendant below),
State of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff below).

          Argued: October 12, 2017

          Appeal from the Pike Circuit Court, No. 63C01-1602-F3-73 The Honorable Jeffrey L. Biesterveld, Judge

         On Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 63A04-1612-CR-02891

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

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


          David, Justice.

         We are asked to resolve whether a defendant can be convicted of multiple felony resisting law enforcement charges when those charges stem from a single incident of resisting. For reasons discussed herein, we find that Indiana Code section 35-44.1-3-1 authorizes only one conviction for felony resisting law enforcement where the defendant engages in a single act of resisting while operating a vehicle that causes multiple deaths. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court and remand for revised sentencing.

         Facts and Procedural History

         On the evening of February 2, 2016, Indiana Police State Trooper James Manning ("Trooper Manning") was parked on the northbound shoulder of I-69, near Petersburg, Indiana. A motorist pulled over and informed Trooper Manning that he observed a blue Chevy Tahoe driving northbound on the southbound lanes of the interstate. Trooper Manning activated his patrol vehicle's emergency signals-the lights and siren- and gave chase, driving northbound on I-69. Shortly thereafter, he spotted a blue SUV driving on the wrong side of the road. Officers later learned that Brian L. Paquette was driving that vehicle.

         As Trooper Manning approached the blue SUV, he aimed his spotlight at the fleeing vehicle. Trooper Manning then pulled into the median, and Paquette seemed to slow down. Instead of coming to a full stop, however, Paquette made a U-turn onto the northbound lane and continued driving on the wrong side of the road, this time heading south. Trooper Manning immediately veered onto the southbound road and followed Paquette, once again shining his spotlight at the blue SUV.

         At the same time, several passenger vehicles traveled north on the northbound road. Among those was a vehicle occupied by Jason and Samantha Lowe, who were returning to their home in Fishers, Indiana after visiting Samantha's mother at an Evansville hospital. Also traveling northbound on I-69 were Stephanie Molinet and Autumn Kapperman, who were riding in a Ford Focus to pick up Kapperman's sister and her newly-born niece from Riley Hospital. Kapperman was expecting a child of her own at the time of the incident.

         Trooper Manning followed in pursuit and Paquette continued southbound, driving between two northbound lanes. Within two miles of making the U-turn, Paquette's SUV collided head-on with Molinet's Ford Focus, striking the passenger side where Kapperman was seated. Molinet, Kapperman, and Kapperman's unborn child died as a result of the crash. The impact of the collision caused Paquette's Chevy Tahoe to flip over and land on the driver's side of the Lowe's vehicle, instantly killing Jason Lowe.

         Paquette survived the crash. While officers waited for firefighters to extract Paquette from his vehicle, Paquette told an officer that, at the time of the crash, he believed he was being chased by farmers through a field. He also believed he was carrying a female passenger, but officers found no evidence of another passenger at the crash site.

         The State charged Paquette with a total of eleven offenses. Among those were three counts for each of the following: 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. Each duplicative count related to one of the three deceased victims. Paquette was also charged with operating a vehicle with methamphetamine in his body causing serious bodily injury to Samantha Lowe, a Level 6 felony; and possession of methamphetamine, a Level 6 felony.

         Paquette agreed to plead guilty to all charges, but reserved the right to ask the court to enter only one conviction and sentence for the felony resisting law enforcement charge. Paquette argued that he engaged in only one act of resisting, thus conviction on all three resisting law enforcement felony charges-one for each deceased victim-violated a state and federal prohibition on double-jeopardy. On that issue, the trial court ruled against Paquette, finding that conviction and sentence on all three counts of resisting law enforcement was not barred by double-jeopardy protections.

          The trial court then entered convictions on all three Level 3 felony counts of resisting law enforcement and on the charge of operating a vehicle with methamphetamine in his blood causing serious bodily injury. The court merged the remaining counts into the four aforementioned counts. For each of the three felony resisting law enforcement convictions, the trial court imposed 16-year sentences to be served consecutively. For the operating while intoxicated conviction, Paquette received a 2.5-year sentence to be served consecutively with the resisting sentences. In total, Paquette was to serve fifty-and-a-half years executed.

         Paquette appealed, making a statutory argument instead of a constitutional one. He argued that, as written, Indiana's resisting law enforcement statute authorizes only one conviction for each act of resisting and that the trial court, therefore, erred when it entered three convictions and sentences against him.[1] Relying on its own precedent in Armstead v. State, 549 N.E.2d 400 (Ind.Ct.App. 1990), the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for revised sentencing. It held that the legislature intended only one conviction for each act of resisting, and since Paquette had only engaged in one act of resisting ...

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