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Court rules on consecutive enhancements issue

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Consecutive habitual offender enhancements are improper, whether the enhancements arise from separate trials on unrelated charges or separate trials on related charges, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled yesterday in two opinions.

The high court addressed whether in Byron K. Breaston v. State, No. 20S04-0810-CR-561, a defendant who committed a crime that resulted in a second habitual offender enhancement being imposed before he was discharged from his first crime could have multiple consecutive habitual offender enhancements.

Acknowledging Byron K. Breaston's case differs from caselaw on the matter - Starks v. State, 523 N.E.2d 735, 737 (Ind. 1988), and Smith v. State, 774 N.E.2d 1021, 1024 (Ind. Ct. App. 2002), which ruled imposing consecutive habitual offender enhancements to be improper - the Supreme Court held the language of Indiana Code Section 35-50-1-2(d) doesn't expressly authorize multiple habitual offender enhancements to be imposed consecutively.

Breaston was sentenced in November 2004 to three years for felony escape, enhanced by four and one-half years for being a habitual offender, for not returning to his work release program. Several weeks later he was sentenced to three years for a theft conviction, which was enhanced by four and one-half years due to another habitual offender finding. The sentences and habitual offender enhancements were ordered to be served consecutively.

"Under Indiana law, a trial court cannot order consecutive habitual offender sentences," wrote Justice Frank Sullivan. "This holds true whether the concurrent enhanced sentence is imposed in a single proceeding or in separate proceedings."

In John D. Farris v. State of Indiana, No. 02S03-0904-PC-181, John Farris had consecutive habitual offender enhancements imposed following separate trials on related charges. Because his counsel didn't object to the imposition of consecutive habitual offender enhancements, and his sentence was improperly enhanced by 30-years, the Supreme Court ruled Farris is entitled to post-conviction relief on the basis of ineffective assistance of counsel.

Farris was convicted of robbery and then separately of murder and felony aggravated battery; he was found to be a habitual offender at each trial. His robbery sentence was enhanced by 30 years and his murder sentence was enhanced for 30 years for a total of 155 years.

The post-conviction court didn't find Farris' trial counsel to be ineffective for failing to oppose the imposition of the consecutive enhancements. Precedent established by Seay v. State, 550 N.E.2d 1284, 1289 (Ind. 1990), held the state is barred from seeking multiple, pyramiding habitual offender sentence enhancements by bringing successive prosecutions for charges that could have been consolidated for trial, Justice Sullivan wrote. The post-conviction court and the Indiana Court of Appeals both misapplied Seay.

Seay was decided seven years before Farris was convicted and his attorney was guilty of deficient performance for not moving to dismiss the habitual offender allegation filed with the murder and battery charges, wrote the justice.

In Breaston, the Supreme Court remanded to the trial court to order the habitual offender enhancements to be served concurrently and to re-sentence him accordingly. In Farris, the case was remanded to the post-conviction court to vacate his second enhancement in accordance with the opinion.

The Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals in all other respects in both cases.

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  2. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  3. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  4. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

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