Rarely does the state concede that convictions violate double jeopardy principles, as happened in a case decided Tuesday by the Indiana Supreme Court.
In Chad E. Strong v. State of Indiana, No. 20S03-0612-CR-529, the Indiana Attorney General's Office acknowledged the defendant's claim that two convictions - one for murder and another for neglect of a dependent resulting in the same child's death - violate the hallmark legal principle preventing a person from being charged twice for the same offense.
Strong was convicted of murder in the death of his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter and also of a Class A felony of neglect of a dependent in connection with the child's death. He received consecutive terms of 65 years for murder and 55 years for the neglect felony. On direct appeal he raised issues of prosecutorial misconduct, evidence admission, sentence appropriateness, and double jeopardy. The Court of Appeals rejected all the claims except the last, remanding with instruction to reduce the conviction to a lower Class B felony and impose 20 years consecutive to the murder sentence. Strong argued this doesn't cure the double jeopardy problem, while the state disagreed.
"Such a recharacterization of the charges, however, does not eliminate the fact that both charged offenses would still be based on the same bodily injury," Justice Brent Dickson wrote in the unanimous four-page opinion. "Only when deemed a Class D offense, which does not include any element of bodily injury, does the conviction of neglect of a dependent satisfy the common law/statutory construction aspect of Indiana's double jeopardy jurisprudence."
The high court affirmed the murder conviction and sentence, but remanded to the trial court with instructions to reduce the conviction from a Class A to a D felony and revise the sentence to three years served consecutive to the murder sentence.