ILNews

Felony can't be modified to misdemeanor 9 years later

Back to TopE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

In a case of first impression, the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded with instructions a trial court’s modification of a criminal sentence from a Class D felony to a Class A misdemeanor nine years after the appellee-defendant pleaded guilty to operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

The state appealed the Noble Superior Court’s modification in State of Indiana v. Jeffrey Brunner, No. 57A04-1003-CR-121. Jeffrey Brunner raised the issue of whether the state’s appeal was authorized by law, and the state questioned whether the trial court erred in granting Brunner’s petition for relief.

Because the Court of Appeals found that Brunner’s request was a petition of post-conviction relief, it held the state could appeal the decision. However, today's  opinion noted the court hadn’t recognized Brunner’s request as a petition for PCR, and had not entirely followed the rules for a PCR. “But ‘the failure to enter specific findings of fact and conclusions of law is not reversible error,’” wrote Judge Edward W. Najam Jr.

As for the issue of the trial court’s error in granting a modification from a felony to a misdemeanor, the COA found the statute does allow for such a change.

However, “Indiana Code Section 35-50-2-7(b), on which the trial court relied in granting Brunner’s request, states: ‘if a person has committed a Class D felony, the court may enter judgment of conviction of a Class A misdemeanor and sentence accordingly.’ Applying that statute to these facts is a question of first impression and requires us to divine the intent of the legislature,” Judge Najam wrote regarding the amount of time that had passed between the conviction and the petition for PCR.

In considering the General Assembly’s intent in writing the statute, the Court of Appeals concluded this authority of the court was meant to apply “to the moment the court first enters its judgment of conviction and before the court announces the defendant’s sentence. That intent is made clear in the language of the statute itself, which describes a timeframe after the finding of a Class D felony but before the entry of sentence. … That intent is also supported by the differences in sentences available to persons convicted of Class D felonies and those convicted of Class A misdemeanors,” Judge Najam wrote.

In this case, Brunner was charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated in November 1999. He pled guilty in August 2000. It was his third conviction of an OWI, which the state would note in its responses to Brunner’s requests to modify his felony to a misdemeanor.

Brunner sent a letter to the court Dec. 26, 2007, regarding the August 2000 conviction asking for the felony to be changed to a misdemeanor. The state filed its objection April 14, 2008.  Following the June 3, 2008, hearing on the matter, the court denied Brunner’s request.

Brunner refiled his letter Jan. 15, 2009, and the state again filed a response. There was no order granting or denying the request.

Brunner again filed a letter asking for the modification Sept. 16, 2009, and the state again filed a response Sept. 28, 2009. Following an Oct. 16 hearing, the court granted Brunner’s request.

“Again, the trial court’s decision on whether to enter judgment on a Class D felony or a Class A misdemeanor … may be made only at the moment of the original entry of the judgment of conviction,” Judge Najam concluded. “That did not happen here. Instead, more than nine years after the trial court entered its judgment of conviction against Brunner as a Class D felony, the trial court revisited that issue, vacated the Class D felony conviction, and imposed a Class A misdemeanor conviction. The trial court’s reliance on Section 35-50-2-7(b) to grant the requested relief was contrary to the plain meaning of the statute and an abuse of discretion.”
 

ADVERTISEMENT

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  2. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  3. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  4. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

  5. Brian W, I fear I have not been sufficiently entertaining to bring you back. Here is a real laugh track that just might do it. When one is grabbed by the scruff of his worldview and made to choose between his Confession and his profession ... it is a not a hard choice, given the Confession affects eternity. But then comes the hardship in this world. Imagine how often I hear taunts like yours ... "what, you could not even pass character and fitness after they let you sit and pass their bar exam ... dude, there must really be something wrong with you!" Even one of the Bishop's foremost courtiers said that, when explaining why the RCC refused to stand with me. You want entertaining? How about watching your personal economy crash while you have a wife and five kids to clothe and feed. And you can't because you cannot work, because those demanding you cast off your Confession to be allowed into "their" profession have all the control. And you know that they are wrong, dead wrong, and that even the professional code itself allows your Faithful stand, to wit: "A lawyer may refuse to comply with an obligation imposed by law upon a good faith belief that no valid obligation exists. The provisions of Rule 1.2(d) concerning a good faith challenge to the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law apply to challenges of legal regulation of the practice of law." YET YOU ARE A NONPERSON before the BLE, and will not be heard on your rights or their duties to the law -- you are under tyranny, not law. And so they win in this world, you lose, and you lose even your belief in the rule of law, and demoralization joins poverty, and very troubling thoughts impeaching self worth rush in to fill the void where your career once lived. Thoughts you did not think possible. You find yourself a failure ... in your profession, in your support of your family, in the mirror. And there is little to keep hope alive, because tyranny rules so firmly and none, not the church, not the NGO's, none truly give a damn. Not even a new court, who pay such lip service to justice and ancient role models. You want entertainment? Well if you are on the side of the courtiers running the system that has crushed me, as I suspect you are, then Orwell must be a real riot: "There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever." I never thought they would win, I always thought that at the end of the day the rule of law would prevail. Yes, the rule of man's law. Instead power prevailed, so many rules broken by the system to break me. It took years, but, finally, the end that Dr Bowman predicted is upon me, the end that she advised the BLE to take to break me. Ironically, that is the one thing in her far left of center report that the BLE (after stamping, in red ink, on Jan 22) is uninterested in, as that the BLE and ADA office that used the federal statute as a sword now refuses to even dialogue on her dire prediction as to my fate. "C'est la vie" Entertaining enough for you, status quo defender?

ADVERTISEMENT