ILNews

Court accepts habitual traffic violator case

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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The Indiana Supreme Court decided Thursday to consider a case that presents an issue of first impression regarding an Operating While being a Habitual Traffic Violator statute.

In the case State of Indiana v. Karl D. Jackson, 29A02-0610-CR-867, the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles determined in 2003 that Karl D. Jackson was a habitual traffic violator and suspended his license. The state agency mailed a notice to Jackson, but he hadn't notified the BMV that he had moved so he never received it.

A Carmel police officer stopped Jackson in January 2005, arrested him for driving with a suspended license, and the state eventually charged him with being a habitual traffic offender. But Jackson obtained an acquittal from the trial court because he didn't have actual knowledge that his license was suspended because of his habitual status; only that his license was suspended. The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed in April.

This case gives the justices a chance to revisit an unresolved issue from a 1999 ruling dealing with the Operating While being a Habitual Traffic Violator (OWHTV) statute. In Stewart v. State, 721 N.E. 2d 876, 879 (Ind. 1999), the court held that the state needed to prove the act of driving, that a license suspension or HTV adjudication had happened, and that the defendant "knew or should have known" about the suspension. But that holding left open whether the state must prove the defendant actually knew his license was merely suspended or that it was because of his HTV status.

"The plain language of the statute is ambiguous as to whether the State must show that defendants know of their status as an HTV, or know merely that their license is suspended," Judge Margret Robb wrote in the 18-page ruling in April. "It would create an inconsistent result to interpret the statute to require that the State must prove that the defendant merely knew his or her license was suspended, but that the rebuttable presumption arises only upon proof of proper notice of the defendant's status as an HTV, and not upon proof of mere notice of a suspension."

Judge Robb added, "These considerations, along with the requirement that we construe penal statutes strictly against the State and resolve ambiguities in favor of the accused, lead us to hold that the OWHTV statute requires that the State prove the defendant knew his or her license was suspended because of that person's status as an HTV."

The appellate court ruled that a defendant's failure to notify the BMV of a change in address doesn't leave that person without the ability to rebut the presumption of knowledge.
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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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