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COA affirms second imposition of habitual-offender enhancement

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A Tippecanoe County man whose sentence enhancement for being a habitual offender was overturned by the Indiana Supreme Court – but later re-imposed after a retrial – was unable to convince the Indiana Court of Appeals that his retrial was barred by res judicata.

Thomas Dexter was convicted of Class A felony neglect of a dependent resulting in death after he dropped his girlfriend’s young daughter after giving her a bath. He had tossed her in the air and she slipped from his grip and hit the tub. The jury enhanced his sentence by 30 years based on two prior felony convictions. But the Supreme Court reversed because a copy of the order entering judgment of conviction on the 2000 offense wasn’t signed by the trial judge. But they held the state could retry Dexter on the habitual-offender enhancement.

On retrial, the state introduced a certified transcript from Dexter’s 2000 guilty plea and sentencing hearing on the felony theft charge. The jury again found him to be a habitual offender and the court imposed a 30-year enhancement.

“Although our Supreme Court held that the unsigned order entering judgment of conviction was not sufficient to prove the existence of Dexter’s 2000 felony theft conviction, it did not rule out other methods of proving the existence of this conviction,” Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote in Thomas Dexter v. State of Indiana, 79A04-1212-CR-611.

The certified transcript presented at retrial was not presented during the first trial, the judges pointed out, so the Supreme Court did not evaluate it during Dexter’s appeal. The high court has held that the state must introduce evidence certified and authenticated records of a defendant’s prior felony convictions to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of those prior convictions. As such, the COA held that the certified transcript from Dexter’s May 2000 guilty-plea and sentencing hearing was sufficient to establish the fact of his 2000 felony theft conviction.

The judges also affirmed that Dexter could be retried on the enhancement.

“The Court did not reach any legal conclusion that would preclude Dexter from being found a habitual offender if the State proved the existence of the theft conviction; therefore, it expressly remanded the case for resentencing proceedings. Because our Supreme Court’s decision was not a final judgment on the merits, the State was not barred from retrying Dexter under the doctrine of res judicata,” Vaidik wrote.
 

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