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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. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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