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COA: enhancement isn't an ex post facto violation

October 31, 2011

The enhancement of a man’s conviction of operating a vehicle while intoxicated because of a prior OWI conviction did not constitute an ex post facto violation, the Indiana Court of Appeals held Monday. The man argued it was a violation because his prior conviction occurred before the enactment of the enhancement statute.

Joseph Simmons appealed his conviction of Class C felony OWI and the eight-year sentence handed down by Jennings Circuit Judge Jon W. Webster. The truck driven by Simmons was pulled over after a person called police believing the occupants of the truck may be drunk. When police pulled over Simmons’ truck, he had trouble standing, smelled of alcohol and refused the field sobriety tests. When he attempted to do some of them at the police station, he was unable to complete them and even commented “I can’t do that sober.” He blew a blood alcohol content of 0.19.

Simmons faced several charges relating to drinking and driving and was convicted on all counts except for a charge of driving while suspended. The judge merged all the OWI convictions with the conviction of Class C felony OWI with a prior conviction for OWI causing death.

In Joseph Simmons v. State of Indiana, No. 40A05-1101-CR-10, Simmons argued that the enhancement of his OWI conviction to a Class C felony, which is based on his prior conviction for OWI causing death, is an ex post facto violation because the enhancement statute was enacted after his conviction for OWI causing death. The appellate judges found Simmons case to be controlled by Funk v. State, 427 N.E.2d 1081 (Ind. 1981), a case in which the defendant claimed that the general habitual offender statute was an unconstitutional ex post facto law.

“Simmons is not being re-punished for his prior crime, nor has the penalty for his prior crime been enhanced. He is simply being punished as a recidivist based upon his most recent act of OWI. And he is being punished under the version of the statute which was effective at the time he committed his most recent OWI,” wrote Judge Paul Mathias.

The judges found sufficient evidence to support his convictions and that his sentence is appropriate given his criminal history. The judge pointed to Simmons light-hearted banter with police while taking his sobriety tests, which they found troubling given that Simmons has been convicted of OWI causing death.

“When Simmons killed another person as a result of his drunken driving, it should have been a life-altering experience for him. However, Simmons seems to have not altered his behavior at all. Simmons is a recidivist, lethal drunk driver whose behavior has obviously been undeterred by his prior contact with the criminal justice system. His prior convictions, as they relate to the current offense, reflect very poorly on his character,” wrote Mathias.  
 

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