Justices rule on convictions, sentencing in police-impersonation case

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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Various offenses committed at different times and in different counties do not constitute a single episode of criminal conduct for sentencing purposes, the Indiana Supreme Court has reinforced this week.

That logic, however, doesn't extend to convictions, as the state's highest court has affirmed a lower appellate finding that multiple instances of police officer impersonation are considered "the same occurrence," and subsequent convictions in different counties violate Indiana's double jeopardy statute.

Justices granted transfer Wednesday in Derek Scott Geiger v. State of Indiana, issuing a two-page order that summarily affirmed the Court of Appeals' May 23 decision in Geiger v. State, 866 N.E. 2d 830 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007).

This case arises from an incident in July 2005 when Geiger and three others pulled a couple over and claimed to be narcotics officers. Geiger pleaded guilty in July 2006 to felony armed robbery in Floyd County and was sentenced to 10 years. In Harrison County, a jury found him guilty that August and he was later sentenced to 12 years to run consecutively to his Floyd County sentence. Charges were still pending at the time in Clark County for a similar incident.

In the lower appellate decision in May, the court vacated Geiger's conviction in Harrison County for impersonating a public servant because of his previous conviction for the same in Floyd County. The court held that "a defendant may not be convicted of more than one count of impersonating a public servant pursuant to Indiana Code section 35-44-2-3 based on the same occurrence, even if there are multiple victims."

The court noted, "It is an issue of first impression whether the appropriate number of convictions for impersonating a public servant turns on the number of victims to whom the defendant misrepresents or, instead, on the number of occasions on which the defendant engages in the unlawful conduct."

An appellate panel consisting of Chief Judge John Baker and Judges Mark Bailey and Melissa May determined that IC 35-44-2-3 is a conduct-oriented statute focusing on the act of impersonating a public servant and the intent to mislead another person. The statute doesn't require the victim to actually believe or be induced by the misrepresentation, the court reasoned.

In its order, the Supreme Court didn't delve into the conviction component of the case, affirming the Court of Appeals and only delving into the sentencing issues.

When analyzing the sentencing components on appeal, the Court of Appeals judges used a balancing test and determined "the independent nature of each of these offenses leads us to conclude that they are not a single episode of criminal conduct." The court rejected Geiger's argument that the consecutive sentences exceeded the length allowed by IC 35-50-1-2, in part because the offenses in both counties constituted one episode of that conduct.

Justices agreed, citing Reed v. State, 856 N.E.2d 1189, 1201 (Ind. 2006), and Harris v. State, 861 N.E. 2d 1182, 1188 (Ind. 2007), that both addressed the "episode of criminal conduct" issue.

The balancing test cited from Reed says, "Although the ability to recount each charge without referring to the other can provide additional guidance on the question of whether a defendant's conduct constitutes an episode of criminal conduct, it is not a critical ingredient in resolving the question. Rather, the statute speaks in less absolute terms: 'a connected series of offenses that are closely connected in time, place, and circumstance.'"

Justices wrote they agreed with the appellate court's conclusion that the various offenses, committed at different times and in different counties, did not constitute a single episode of criminal conduct.

The Supreme Court addressed another point Geiger made about how proper consecutive sentences were in that he didn't receive advisory sentences on the individual convictions. But the court dismissed that claim by citing a decision from Aug. 8 in Robertson v. State, where the holding was that a court imposing a consecutive sentence is not limited to the advisory sentence.

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