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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. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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