The Indiana Supreme Court ruled Thursday that under Indiana Code 35-46-1-5(a), the enhancement of nonsupport of a dependent child to a Class C felony because of an arrearage of $15,000 or more is triggered by the dollar amount owed, regardless of how many children the parent has.
The state had charged Amir Sanjari with two counts of Class D felony nonsupport of a dependent and two counts as Class C felonies because he owed more than $15,000 in child support for his two children. He was convicted on all counts but only sentenced on the Class C felonies. Sanjari believed the two Class C felony convictions should have “merged” into one under Indiana double jeopardy jurisprudence.
The Court of Appeals vacated one of his Class C felony convictions but affirmed in all other respects.
In Amir H. Sanjari v. State of Indiana, No. 20S03-1105-CR-268, Justice Brent Dickson analyzed the statute at issue and held that I.C. 35-46-1-5 allows for separate Class D felony convictions of nonsupport of a dependent child, but only one such offense may be enhanced to a Class C felony where the unpaid support for one or more children is $15,000 or more. The state argued that the statute allows for the enhancement for every $15,000 in nonsupport arrears, so if a parent with four children owed $60,000, he or she could be punished for four Class C felonies.
The same $15,000 was used to enhance both of Sanjari’s convictions, so the justices vacated the four convictions and ordered that he be convicted of and sentenced for one count of Class C felony nonsupport of a dependent for one child and Class D felony nonsupport with regards to the other child.
“For future clarification, however, we do not consider the attribution of separate $15,000 portions of the aggregate arrearage to separate dependent children a proper basis for seeking separate class C felony convictions as to each child. Such a technique might avoid the statutory construction rule of Richardson and Spivey proscribing multiple punishments for the same behavior or harm,” Dickson wrote. “But this prosecutorial maneuver would not satisfy the statutory basis for a class C felony nonsupport conviction, which requires that the aggregate, the ‘total’ amount, of unpaid support for all of the defendant's dependent children, whether one or more, equal or exceed $15,000.”