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Court rules on mistaken statutory language

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A mistaken statutory provision has led to a reversal of a decision by a trial court judge from Wells County.

The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Monday in State of Indiana v. Skylor Gearlds, No. 90A02-1105-CR-433.

In September 2010, the state charged Skylor Gearlds with Class A misdemeanor operating a motor vehicle while suspended based on a previous violation within the past 10 years. Gearlds had previously been convicted in April 2009 of OWI while suspended as an infraction. Specifically, the statute at issue is Indiana Code 9-24-19-2 that was added in 2000 after a preceding statute was repealed.

Wells Superior Judge Everett Goshorn dismissed the misdemeanor because the statute contains a mistaken cross-reference to statutes that no longer exist. Basically, it allows for a driving while suspended infraction to be enhanced when the driver either has a previous OWI conviction or when that previous conviction is within 10 years of the commission of any previous criminal offense.

The judge issued an order that said the statute erroneously refers to “subdivision (1)” rather than the unnumbered first paragraph of the statute and doesn’t define a criminal offense. The statute must be strictly construed, regardless of the intention of the Legislature, and the judge found no viable criminal charge for driving while suspended as a Class A misdemeanor exists under that statute.

The Court of Appeals reversed, finding that to be an error because the statute remains enforceable as written.

“We conclude that although there is a mistake in the statute, it is clear that the legislature did not intend to elevate all driving while suspended offenses with prior convictions but rather only intended to elevate those offenses where the offender had a prior conviction within 10 years of the new offense,” Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote. “Put differently, the statute was intended to proscribe less conduct than the literal words of the statute do.”

Although the provision is a mistake, the intent remains to create an enhanced penalty for those who have a prior unrelated judgment for driving without a license within the past 10 years.

“This was merely an oversight that carried over from the old statute,” she wrote. “We presume that the legislature intended for the language to be applied logically and consistent with the underlying goals and policies of the statute. Moreover, we will not presume that the legislature intended to do a useless thing.”

The appellate court wrote that the Indiana General Assembly should amend IC 9-24-19-2 to remove the erroneous language to avoid any future litigation on this issue.
 

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  1. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  2. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  3. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  4. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  5. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

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