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Court interprets revised procedural statute

January 1, 2008
The Indiana Court of Appeals has found strong and compelling evidence to apply retroactivity to a procedural state statute lawmakers changed last year following a ruling from Indiana Supreme Court.

In Mark Hurst v. State of Indiana, No. 64A03-0710-CR-490, the appellate court affirmed a Porter Superior judge's ruling that the court properly amended charging information 15 months after the original omnibus date, that sufficient evidence of seriously bodily injury existed to support a felony battery conviction, and that Hurst was properly sentenced to nine years.

The case involves a battery on the woman that Hurst was living with off and on for about five years, who was also the mother of Hurst's child. In July 2005, the two got into an argument and Hurst came over to the woman's home, kicked in the door, and beat her to the point of unconsciousness. The state charged him with felony rape, residential entry, domestic battery, and a misdemeanor for interference with reporting a crime. Charges were later amended twice in January 2007 to ramp up the seriousness of his alleged actions.

A main issue in the case was whether modifications were allowed in charging information related to matters of substance when the substantial rights of the defendant were not prejudiced. Prior to last year, caselaw allowed that. But the Indiana Supreme Court ruled Jan. 16, 2007, in Fajardo v. State, 859 N.E.2d 1201 (Ind. 2007), to interpret Indiana Code 35-34-1-5(b), holding that when a person is charged with a felony, any amendments are only allowed if it's more than 30 days before the omnibus date, regardless of whether the defendant's rights are prejudiced.

Lawmakers revised that statute allowing the state to amend charges before a trial starts as long as the amendment doesn't prejudice the defendant's substantial rights. It took effect May 8, 2007.

In Hurst, parties disagree which statute applied - the former version as interpreted by Fajardo or the current version enacted during Hurst's trial. Hurst doesn't want the new statute to apply because it allowed the change in charging information.

"This prompt return to pre-Fajardo law indicates urgency in the legislature's desire to negate the effects of Fajardo," the court wrote today. "Though the legislature did not expressively provide for retroactive application of the amended statute, we are confident that this was the clear intent of such legislation. Therefore, the current statute applies."

The appellate court found no error because Hurst had reasonable time to prepare for and defend against the amended charges.
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