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Justices address habitual-offender statute

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The Indiana Supreme Court tackled the state’s habitual-offender statute today in two separate rulings, finding that an instant offense of drug dealing, coupled with a prior conviction, can qualify a defendant as a habitual offender.

In Andre Peoples v. State of Indiana, No. 79S02-0912-CR-549, Andre Peoples argued his instant offense of dealing in cocaine couldn’t be used in calculating the total number of unrelated felony convictions a person has for drug dealing. Peoples had prior unrelated convictions in Illinois for forgery and dealing in cocaine.

The trial court found Peoples was a habitual offender and sentenced him to an additional 10 years on top of his 10-year sentence for the Class B felony dealing in cocaine.  

The justices examined Indiana Code Section 35-50-2-8 and found subsections (b) and (d) work in concert to assure that all offenders who have accumulated three felony convictions, and at least one is a felony drug conviction, are treated alike, regardless of the order in which they were accumulated. They rejected Peoples’ interpretation that a person with an instant felony conviction for forgery and two prior felony drug convictions would be eligible for the enhancement, but someone whose prior convictions are forgery and a drug offense, and whose instant felony conviction is for a drug offense wouldn’t be eligible for enhancement.

“When the State filed Defendant’s habitual offender charge, he had accumulated one felony drug conviction. But we do not read the language of subsection (a) to preclude the State from filing habitual offender charges with respect to a defendant who, if convicted on the underlying charges, will have accumulated two unrelated felony drug convictions by the time habitual offender proceedings commence,” wrote Justice Frank Sullivan.

In Myron Owens v. State of Indiana, No. 49S02-0910-CR-429, the justices held that a conspiracy-to-deal conviction is not equivalent to a dealing conviction for the purposes of the habitual offender statute. Owens was convicted of Class A felony dealing in cocaine, Class B felony possession of cocaine and other charges. He was found to be a habitual offender based on his prior convictions of dealing in cocaine and conspiracy to deal.

The statute only counts certain offenses as prior felonies. If a defendant’s instant offense falls under Chapter 16-42-19 or 35-48-4, and isn’t specified in I.C. 35-50-2-2(b)(4), then the state can only seek to enhance the sentence if the defendant has two or more unrelated convictions for a dealing offense identified in subsection 8(b)(3)(C) of the habitual-offender statute. Conspiracy to deal isn’t explicitly set out in that subsection, wrote Justice Theodore Boehm.

The justices agreed with the reasoning in Huff v. State that because conspiracy to deal is a separate offense and not listed with dealing among the nonsuspendable offenses, conspiracy to deal is not suspendable under Indiana Code. They declined to equate conspiracy to deal with the dealing offenses found in subsection 8(b)(3)(C).

But because of Owens’ prior conviction of dealing in cocaine paired with his instant dealing conviction, he can be sentenced with a habitual-offender enhancement, wrote Justice Boehm. The justices affirmed his convictions and sentences in the instant case.
 

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  1. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  2. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  3. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  4. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

  5. Can I get this form on line,if not where can I obtain one. I am eligible.

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