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COA divided on dismissal of OWI charges

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The Indiana Court of Appeals split on whether a defendant’s operating while intoxicated charges should have been dismissed because the charging information didn’t let the man know what vehicle he needed to defend against operating.

Police saw a Lexus in a ditch on the side of the road and Richard Laker hitching the car to the back of a Massey Ferguson farm tractor. Laker told police that a friend wrecked the car and asked Laker to tow it out. Laker didn’t have a driver’s license, his driving privileges had been suspended, and he blew a 0.10 on a chemical breath test.

The state charged him with four counts: Count I alleged he unlawfully, knowingly or intentionally operated a motor vehicle while driving privileges were suspended; Count II alleged he unlawfully operated a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration equivalent to at least 0.08; Count III alleged he operated a vehicle while intoxicated; and Count IV alleged he had a prior OWI conviction. None of the charges specified whether it was the tractor or the Lexus that he allegedly illegally operated. The probable cause affidavit described the subject vehicle as the tractor.

Laker moved to dismiss the charges, which the trial court granted.

The appellate judges agreed in State of Indiana v. Richard J. Laker, Jr., No. 24A04-0912-CR-736, that Count I should have been dismissed. The charging information for that count didn’t specify what vehicle he allegedly operated, and Laker couldn’t prepare a proper defense without that knowledge.

“That Laker moved to dismiss this charge on the ground a farm tractor was not a ‘motor vehicle’ and because he was prohibited from operating while suspended demonstrates the information did not ‘specify the facts and circumstances which inform the accused of the particular offense coming under the general description with which he is charged,’” wrote Judge Melissa May in the majority opinion.

Finding that the charging information for the other counts were virtually identically in structure to Count I, the majority found them to also be deficient.

Judge Nancy Vaidik dissented on the dismissal of Counts II, III, and IV. She noted that the Indiana Supreme Court has indicated that even where a charging information may lack appropriate factual detail, additional materials such as a probable cause affidavit supporting the charging instrument may be taken into account in determining whether a defendant has been apprised of the charges against him. She found the state’s pleading materials on the whole, which include the probable cause affidavit and summons ticket that describe the subject vehicle as the tractor, sufficiently apprised Laker of the state’s charges.

“I agree with the majority that, given the unique circumstances alleged in this case, identifying the vehicle in the charging instrument would have been ideal. I would conclude, however, as the trial court impliedly did in its ruling, that the probable cause affidavit and summons tickets cure any purported omission and clarify that the State’s charges are premised on Laker’s farm tractor,” she wrote.

Since a farm tractor isn’t excluded from the definition of “vehicle” for purposes of OWI, she wrote she would find those counts are sustainable and the trial court erred by dismissing them.

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  1. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  2. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  3. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  4. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  5. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

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