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Judges uphold OWI conviction

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Even though a man who was temporarily found incompetent was detained in a facility for a period longer than his sentence would have been if he was convicted of Class A misdemeanor operating while intoxicated, the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the denial of his motion to dismiss the charge. The appellate court held the state had a substantial interest in pursuing the conviction because the man’s license would be suspended if convicted.

Darren Matlock was convicted of Class A misdemeanor operating a vehicle while intoxicated. While the charge was pending, he was found to be incompetent to stand trial and was transferred to the custody of the Richmond State Hospital. Matlock’s attorney filed a motion to dismiss the charges arguing that Matlock had been in custody for a period beyond the maximum sentence he could receive if convicted. Shortly after the motion was filed, Matlock had regained competency and was released.

The motion was denied and he was found guilty. The trial court sentenced him to time served and ordered a 180-day suspension of his driver’s license.

In Darren Matlock v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-1006-CR-609, the judges relied on State v. Davis, 898 N.E.2d 281, 285 (Ind. 2008), to uphold the denial of the motion to dismiss, citing a part of that opinion in which the Indiana Supreme Court justices noted there could be a number of instances in which the state would have a legitimate interest in determining someone’s guilt or innocence even though that person was found incompetent to stand trial and had been detained for longer than she could be if convicted. The justices gave the examples of requiring registration as a sex offender or to prove status as a habitual traffic offender.

In Davis, the justices dismissed the felony offense against a woman who the court found would never regain competency to stand trial. She had been confined to a state hospital longer than the maximum period of time she could have been sentenced for the offense, so the justices found this violated her Due Process rights. They also noted the state didn’t prove that its interests outweighed Davis’ substantial liberty interest.  

Many criminal convictions have collateral consequences aside from incarceration, including impacting voting rights. But the judges declined to recognize that any potential collateral consequence is sufficient to allow the state to proceed with prosecution of a long-term incompetent individual who had already been detained in excess of the maximum sentence for the particular crime.

“We are reluctant to recognize such a rule, and believe that the ‘substantial interests’ alleged by the State to allow an exception to Davis must be interests directly related to the particular nature of the offense with which the accused is charged,” Judge Michael Barnes wrote.

In Matlock’s case, an OWI conviction requires the suspension of the defendant’s driver’s license for a period of time. His conviction could also form the basis of a habitual substance offender sentence enhancement in the future or enhance a future OWI conviction to a Class D felony, wrote the judge.

“… where the possibility exists that a defendant accused of OWI may at some point in the future regain competency and be released back into society, which release also may include the defendant driving, the State may pursue an OWI conviction even if the defendant’s incompetency caused he or she to be detained for a period in excess of the maximum possible sentence for OWI. Here, Matlock’s incompetency never was alleged to be, and in fact was not, permanent. As such, the State was not precluded from pursuing an OWI conviction against Matlock,” he wrote.

The judges also affirmed there was sufficient evidence to convict Matlock.
 

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