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Supreme Court rules on habitual-offender filing issue

March 20, 2012

The Indiana Supreme Court has found that a man convicted of helping to rob a restaurant did not preserve the issue of whether the trial court properly determined he was a habitual offender that could receive an enhanced sentence.

In Jerrell D. White v. State, No. 15S01-1109-CR-545, the Supreme Court affirmed and reversed in part a decision about the state’s “tardy” habitual-offender filing in this robbery case.

Jerrell D. White waited in a car while his friend took cash from a restaurant register. White drove away and police arrested him two days later, charging him with Class C felony robbery, Class D felony theft, and Class D felony receiving stolen property. Before trial, the court allowed a late habitual-offender charge based on two out-of-state convictions for offenses White committed when he was 15 years old.

At trial, White represented himself with stand-by assistance from a public defender and the jury ultimately found him not guilty of robbery but guilty of theft and receiving stolen property. The jury determined he was a habitual offender, and the trial court sentenced him to three years on each conviction to be served concurrently. The judge also enhanced the sentence by 4.5 years because of his status as a habitual offender.

The Court of Appeals agreed with White’s double jeopardy argument and ordered the trial court to vacate the conviction of and sentence for receiving stolen property. The judges also agreed the evidence was insufficient to support the habitual-offender finding and ordered that it be vacated.

But four justices disagreed in part with the intermediate appellate panel. Justice Frank Sullivan dissented and wrote that he believed the Court of Appeals was correct in its decision.

Examining conflicting precedent on this issue during the past 25 years, the Supreme Court majority determined that the state didn’t articulate any grounds for good cause in requesting the belated habitual-offender charge and the trial court never explored that issue. However, White didn’t object, respond to the state’s filing, request a continuance or argue at trial that the state couldn’t file the tardy habitual-offender charge, so he didn’t preserve that argument, Justice Steven David wrote.

On the evidence sufficiency aspect, the justices disagreed with the Court of Appeals judges who determined additional evidence was required to prove White was tried and convicted in adult court in other states. David wrote that the jury determined the prosecutors proved beyond a reasonable doubt that White had two unrelated adult felony convictions, and that is sufficient.

The majority summarily affirmed the COA on the remaining issues and remanded with instructions to vacate the receiving stolen property conviction and sentence imposed thereon.

 

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