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Felony can't be modified to misdemeanor 9 years later

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In a case of first impression, the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded with instructions a trial court’s modification of a criminal sentence from a Class D felony to a Class A misdemeanor nine years after the appellee-defendant pleaded guilty to operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

The state appealed the Noble Superior Court’s modification in State of Indiana v. Jeffrey Brunner, No. 57A04-1003-CR-121. Jeffrey Brunner raised the issue of whether the state’s appeal was authorized by law, and the state questioned whether the trial court erred in granting Brunner’s petition for relief.

Because the Court of Appeals found that Brunner’s request was a petition of post-conviction relief, it held the state could appeal the decision. However, today's  opinion noted the court hadn’t recognized Brunner’s request as a petition for PCR, and had not entirely followed the rules for a PCR. “But ‘the failure to enter specific findings of fact and conclusions of law is not reversible error,’” wrote Judge Edward W. Najam Jr.

As for the issue of the trial court’s error in granting a modification from a felony to a misdemeanor, the COA found the statute does allow for such a change.

However, “Indiana Code Section 35-50-2-7(b), on which the trial court relied in granting Brunner’s request, states: ‘if a person has committed a Class D felony, the court may enter judgment of conviction of a Class A misdemeanor and sentence accordingly.’ Applying that statute to these facts is a question of first impression and requires us to divine the intent of the legislature,” Judge Najam wrote regarding the amount of time that had passed between the conviction and the petition for PCR.

In considering the General Assembly’s intent in writing the statute, the Court of Appeals concluded this authority of the court was meant to apply “to the moment the court first enters its judgment of conviction and before the court announces the defendant’s sentence. That intent is made clear in the language of the statute itself, which describes a timeframe after the finding of a Class D felony but before the entry of sentence. … That intent is also supported by the differences in sentences available to persons convicted of Class D felonies and those convicted of Class A misdemeanors,” Judge Najam wrote.

In this case, Brunner was charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated in November 1999. He pled guilty in August 2000. It was his third conviction of an OWI, which the state would note in its responses to Brunner’s requests to modify his felony to a misdemeanor.

Brunner sent a letter to the court Dec. 26, 2007, regarding the August 2000 conviction asking for the felony to be changed to a misdemeanor. The state filed its objection April 14, 2008.  Following the June 3, 2008, hearing on the matter, the court denied Brunner’s request.

Brunner refiled his letter Jan. 15, 2009, and the state again filed a response. There was no order granting or denying the request.

Brunner again filed a letter asking for the modification Sept. 16, 2009, and the state again filed a response Sept. 28, 2009. Following an Oct. 16 hearing, the court granted Brunner’s request.

“Again, the trial court’s decision on whether to enter judgment on a Class D felony or a Class A misdemeanor … may be made only at the moment of the original entry of the judgment of conviction,” Judge Najam concluded. “That did not happen here. Instead, more than nine years after the trial court entered its judgment of conviction against Brunner as a Class D felony, the trial court revisited that issue, vacated the Class D felony conviction, and imposed a Class A misdemeanor conviction. The trial court’s reliance on Section 35-50-2-7(b) to grant the requested relief was contrary to the plain meaning of the statute and an abuse of discretion.”
 

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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