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COA delves into grammar in reversing trial court

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The Indiana Court of Appeals issued three opinions Wednesday that dissect the grammar of a state statute in reversing a trial court’s decision regarding sentence enhancements.

In the three cases – State of Indiana v. James D. Eichorst, No. 71A03-1102-CR-105; State of Indiana v. Kevin Lee Traver, No. 71A04-1102-CR-131; and State of Indiana v. Donald Loren Wilson, No. 71A05-1102-CR-130 – the state appeals the St. Joseph Superior Court’s decision to not impose enhanced sentences for the defendants, who had previous convictions of operating while intoxicated. Indiana Code Section 9-30-5-3 provides for an enhancement of a charge under section 1 as follows: “[A] person who violates section 1 or 2 of this chapter commits a Class D felony if … the person has a previous conviction of operating while intoxicated that occurred within the five (5) years immediately preceding the occurrence of the violation of section 1 or 2 of this chapter[.]”

In Eichorst, the appeal contends that the wording of the statute means the date of the original act – not the conviction arising from that act – marks the beginning of the five-year period. In support of this claim, Eichorst argues that in the statute, “occurred within … five … years” modifies “operating while intoxicated,” instead of “conviction,” due to its proximity to the word “operating.” Eichorst further argues that “occurred” modifies “operating,” because a conviction cannot “occur.”

Judge Cale Bradford wrote the opinion for all three cases, pointing out that while the word “occurred” is closer to “operating” than to “conviction,” proximity alone does not support the conclusion that “occurred” modifies “operating” in the statute. As an example, he wrote, “Very few, if any, would read ‘we had a meal in France that was delicious and expensive’ and conclude that ‘delicious and expensive’ was describing ‘France.’”

Bradford wrote that the COA rejects the contention that a conviction cannot “occur,” citing Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, which defines “occur” as: to present itself, come to pass, take place or happen.

Finally, Eichorst argues that in sections 4 and 5 of I.C. 9-30-5, the Legislature’s use of slightly different language indicates an intent to treat prior OWI convictions differently than in section 3, because sections 4 and 5 do not include the words “that occurred.”

The COA held that “The presence of two arguably superfluous words in section 3 does not change the fact that the three sections, insofar as they refer to prior convictions, have essentially identical meanings.”

Applying the same logic to Traver and Wilson, the appeals court held that the state is required to prove that the defendant who has a previous OWI conviction that falls within the five-year period immediately preceding the commission of the instant offense is subject to an enhanced Class D felony sentence. The court remanded all three cases for proceedings consistent with its opinion.
 

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  1. If real money was spent on this study, what a shame. And if some air-head professor tries to use this to advance a career, pity the poor student. I am approaching a time that i (and others around me) should be vigilant. I don't think I'm anywhere near there yet, but seeing the subject I was looking forward to something I might use to look for some benchmarks. When finally finding my way to the hidden questionnaire all I could say to myself was...what a joke. Those are open and obvious signs of any impaired lawyer (or non-lawyer, for that matter), And if one needs a checklist to discern those tell-tale signs of impairment at any age, one shouldn't be practicing law. Another reason I don't regret dropping my ABA membership some number of years ago.

  2. The case should have been spiked. Give the kid a break. He can serve and maybe die for Uncle Sam and can't have a drink? Wow. And they won't even let him defend himself. What a gross lack of prosecutorial oversight and judgment. WOW

  3. I work with some older lawyers in the 70s, 80s, and they are sharp as tacks compared to the foggy minded, undisciplined, inexperienced, listless & aimless "youths" being churned out by the diploma mill law schools by the tens of thousands. A client is generally lucky to land a lawyer who has decided to stay in practice a long time. Young people shouldn't kid themselves. Experience is golden especially in something like law. When you start out as a new lawyer you are about as powerful as a babe in the cradle. Whereas the silver halo of age usually crowns someone who can strike like thunder.

  4. YES I WENT THROUGH THIS BEFORE IN A DIFFERENT SITUATION WITH MY YOUNGEST SON PEOPLE NEED TO LEAVE US ALONE WITH DCS IF WE ARE NOT HURTING OR NEGLECT OUR CHILDREN WHY ARE THEY EVEN CALLED OUT AND THE PEOPLE MAKING FALSE REPORTS NEED TO GO TO JAIL AND HAVE A CLASS D FELONY ON THERE RECORD TO SEE HOW IT FEELS. I WENT THREW ALOT WHEN HE WAS TAKEN WHAT ELSE DOES THESE SCHOOL WANT ME TO SERVE 25 YEARS TO LIFE ON LIES THERE TELLING OR EVEN LE SAME THING LIED TO THE COUNTY PROSECUTOR JUST SO I WOULD GET ARRESTED AND GET TIME HE THOUGHT AND IT TURNED OUT I DID WHAT I HAD TO DO NOT PROUD OF WHAT HAPPEN AND SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SEEKING MEDICAL ATTENTION FOR MY CHILD I AM DISABLED AND SICK OF GETTING TREATED BADLY HOW WOULD THEY LIKE IT IF I CALLED APS ON THEM FOR A CHANGE THEN THEY CAN COME AND ARREST THEM RIGHT OUT OF THE SCHOOL. NOW WE ARE HOMELESS AND THE CHILDREN ARE STAYING WITH A RELATIVE AND GUARDIAN AND THE SCHOOL WON'T LET THEM GO TO SCHOOL THERE BUT WANT THEM TO GO TO SCHOOL WHERE BULLYING IS ALLOWED REAL SMART THINKING ON A SCHOOL STAFF.

  5. Family court judges never fail to surprise me with their irrational thinking. First of all any man who abuses his wife is not fit to be a parent. A man who can't control his anger should not be allowed around his child unsupervised period. Just because he's never been convicted of abusing his child doesn't mean he won't and maybe he hasn't but a man that has such poor judgement and control is not fit to parent without oversight - only a moron would think otherwise. Secondly, why should the mother have to pay? He's the one who made the poor decisions to abuse and he should be the one to pay the price - monetarily and otherwise. Yes it's sad that the little girl may be deprived of her father, but really what kind of father is he - the one that abuses her mother the one that can't even step up and do what's necessary on his own instead the abused mother is to pay for him???? What is this Judge thinking? Another example of how this world rewards bad behavior and punishes those who do right. Way to go Judge - NOT.

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