Judges uphold drug possession conviction, reverse habitual offender enhancement

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A man who was arrested and charged with Class B felony possession of cocaine because he was within 1,000 feet of a family housing complex in Elkhart had his conviction upheld by the Indiana Court of Appeals Friday. But the judges reversed a habitual offender enhancement because the state didn’t prove that John F. Harris III had more than one dealing offense.

In John F. Harris, III v. State of Indiana, 20A03-1205-CR-210, Officer James Wrathell saw Harris walking down the middle of the street in the middle of the night and approached Harris. After Wrathell ordered Harris to put his hands on his head, Harris fled into a nearby apartment complex, where Wrathell caught him.

Harris had $680 in cash, several bags of marijuana and a bag of individually packaged rocks of cocaine on him. He was charged with possession of cocaine, enhanced to a Class B felony because he was within 1,000 feet of a family housing complex. The state also charged him with being a habitual offender.

At trial, the officer said he did not see any children during the incident, but workers at the apartment complex testified that most of the families that live in the complex are young mothers with children. The trial court found Harris guilty as charged and sentenced him to an aggregate term of 43 years.

The Court of Appeals, citing Griffin v. State, 925 N.E.2d 334, 337 (Ind. 2010), upheld the enhanced conviction. The judges felt “bound” by statements in Griffin to mean the evidence from the apartment complex employees could support the enhancement.

“We acknowledge that this interpretation of the defense seems inconsistent with its purpose, which is ‘to excuse a defendant from the required enhancement when his presence in the proscribed zone only minimally increases the risk to children,’” Judge Terry Crone wrote. “If the defense can be defeated merely because unseen children are present in a nearby residence, the enhancement becomes similar to a strict liability offense. The enhancement loses some of its value as a deterrent if it applies to offenders who are unaware that a child happens to be present in a nearby residence. Although the statutory defense as written is clearly available for persons charged with possession or dealing within 1000 feet of a family housing complex, as a practical matter, the defense will likely be difficult to establish.”

Harris previously pleaded guilty in 2003 to possession of cocaine or narcotic drug. The state also relied on a document titled “Bail Review Pretrial Release Report” that indicates Harris has a 1997 conviction of “Manufacture/Delivery of a Controlled Substance” from Illinois to support the habitual offender enhancement. But the record is silent as to which drug Harris manufactured and not all manufacturing offenses fall within the sections of Indiana Code 35-50-2-8(b)(3)(C), so the state did not prove Harris has more than one dealing conviction under that statute.


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  1. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues