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COA delves into grammar in reversing trial court

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The Indiana Court of Appeals issued three opinions Wednesday that dissect the grammar of a state statute in reversing a trial court’s decision regarding sentence enhancements.

In the three cases – State of Indiana v. James D. Eichorst, No. 71A03-1102-CR-105; State of Indiana v. Kevin Lee Traver, No. 71A04-1102-CR-131; and State of Indiana v. Donald Loren Wilson, No. 71A05-1102-CR-130 – the state appeals the St. Joseph Superior Court’s decision to not impose enhanced sentences for the defendants, who had previous convictions of operating while intoxicated. Indiana Code Section 9-30-5-3 provides for an enhancement of a charge under section 1 as follows: “[A] person who violates section 1 or 2 of this chapter commits a Class D felony if … the person has a previous conviction of operating while intoxicated that occurred within the five (5) years immediately preceding the occurrence of the violation of section 1 or 2 of this chapter[.]”

In Eichorst, the appeal contends that the wording of the statute means the date of the original act – not the conviction arising from that act – marks the beginning of the five-year period. In support of this claim, Eichorst argues that in the statute, “occurred within … five … years” modifies “operating while intoxicated,” instead of “conviction,” due to its proximity to the word “operating.” Eichorst further argues that “occurred” modifies “operating,” because a conviction cannot “occur.”

Judge Cale Bradford wrote the opinion for all three cases, pointing out that while the word “occurred” is closer to “operating” than to “conviction,” proximity alone does not support the conclusion that “occurred” modifies “operating” in the statute. As an example, he wrote, “Very few, if any, would read ‘we had a meal in France that was delicious and expensive’ and conclude that ‘delicious and expensive’ was describing ‘France.’”

Bradford wrote that the COA rejects the contention that a conviction cannot “occur,” citing Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, which defines “occur” as: to present itself, come to pass, take place or happen.

Finally, Eichorst argues that in sections 4 and 5 of I.C. 9-30-5, the Legislature’s use of slightly different language indicates an intent to treat prior OWI convictions differently than in section 3, because sections 4 and 5 do not include the words “that occurred.”

The COA held that “The presence of two arguably superfluous words in section 3 does not change the fact that the three sections, insofar as they refer to prior convictions, have essentially identical meanings.”

Applying the same logic to Traver and Wilson, the appeals court held that the state is required to prove that the defendant who has a previous OWI conviction that falls within the five-year period immediately preceding the commission of the instant offense is subject to an enhanced Class D felony sentence. The court remanded all three cases for proceedings consistent with its opinion.
 

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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