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Judges affirm restitution order, sentence following deadly crash

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A man who was speeding and under the influence of alcohol when his car struck another, killing the driver and severely injuring the passenger, will have to make restitution to the victims, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.

Jose Guzman pleaded guilty to Class C felony reckless homicide in exchange for prosecutors dropping several other charges stemming from the accident. His blood alcohol level at the time of the accident was 0.20. The wreck killed Charity Bland and injured Richie Austin.

The trial court accepted Guzman’s plea and sentenced him to eight years in the Department of Correction and that he pay $4,510.65 to the estate of Bland and $20,631.76 to Austin.

In Jose Guzman v. State of Indiana, 54A01-1209-CR-409, Guzman raised numerous issues on appeal, including that he shouldn’t have to pay restitution to Austin because he was not a victim of the crime to which he pleaded guilty, and that his sentence was inappropriate. The Court of Appeals found Austin qualified as a victim under Indiana Code 35-50-5-3(a) and that the trial judge had evidence submitted by Austin’s attorney breaking down the total of Austin’s restitution claim by amount and to whom the amount was due for medical expenses.

Guzman also challenged some of the aggravating factors considered by the trial court, such as the fact his actions resulted in bodily injury to another person and his illegal status. The judges cited Bethea v. State, 983 N.E.2d 1134 (Ind. 2013), to point out that the plea bargain agreed to did not contain any language foreclosing the trial court from considering the facts and circumstances relating to the dismissed charges. They also reiterated that the COA has concluded that an individual’s unlawful immigration status is a valid aggravating factor because it demonstrates a disregard for the law.

“In light of Guzman’s actions, which included driving a vehicle at a high rate of speed with a BAC of 0.20 and getting into an accident with another vehicle, leaving one person dead and another severely injured; Guzman’s criminal history, which included a prior conviction for driving while intoxicated; and Guzman’s attempt to shift blame for the accident to the deceased victim, we cannot say that his eight-year sentence is inappropriate,” Judge Cale Bradford wrote.

 

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