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Justices approve 'double enhancement'

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The Indiana Supreme Court affirmed the use of the same prior conviction to both elevate a defendant’s charge to a felony and find him a habitual substance offender because of explicit legislative direction on the enhancements.

In Clint Beldon v. State of Indiana, No. 43S05-0910-CR-496, Clint Beldon appealed the trial court’s usage of a prior Class D felony conviction to elevate his most recent conviction of operating while intoxicated in a manner that endangers a person from a Class A misdemeanor to Class D felony. Beldon also was sentenced as a habitual substance offender.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed, but the Supreme Court found the trial court could use the same prior conviction based on legislation. Beldon’s 2003 Class D felony OWI conviction, which provided the predicate offense for the progressive penalty elevation of his misdemeanor conviction to a felony, was used as a predicate offense for the specialized habitual offender finding, not for a general habitual offender finding.

In general, absent explicit legislative direction, a sentence imposed following a conviction under a progressive penalty statute can’t be further increased under either the general habitual offender statute or a specific habitualized offender statute. But the requisite legislative direction exists to authorize an underlying elevated conviction to be enhanced by the specialized habitual substance offender enhancement, wrote Justice Frank Sullivan. A 1996 amendment provided direction that prior convictions for operating a vehicle while intoxicated, including those where the charge has been elevated because of a prior conviction, properly served as predicate offenses for habitual substance offender enhancements.

The justices also ruled against Beldon’s argument that the 2003 OWI conviction and the instant offense are not “unrelated” because the former was used to enhance the latter. But the high court already rejected that argument in Beach v. State, 496 N.E.2d 43, 44 (Ind. 1986).
 

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