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Justices rule on convictions, sentencing in police-impersonation case

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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Various offenses committed at different times and in different counties do not constitute a single episode of criminal conduct for sentencing purposes, the Indiana Supreme Court has reinforced this week.

That logic, however, doesn't extend to convictions, as the state's highest court has affirmed a lower appellate finding that multiple instances of police officer impersonation are considered "the same occurrence," and subsequent convictions in different counties violate Indiana's double jeopardy statute.

Justices granted transfer Wednesday in Derek Scott Geiger v. State of Indiana, issuing a two-page order that summarily affirmed the Court of Appeals' May 23 decision in Geiger v. State, 866 N.E. 2d 830 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007).

This case arises from an incident in July 2005 when Geiger and three others pulled a couple over and claimed to be narcotics officers. Geiger pleaded guilty in July 2006 to felony armed robbery in Floyd County and was sentenced to 10 years. In Harrison County, a jury found him guilty that August and he was later sentenced to 12 years to run consecutively to his Floyd County sentence. Charges were still pending at the time in Clark County for a similar incident.

In the lower appellate decision in May, the court vacated Geiger's conviction in Harrison County for impersonating a public servant because of his previous conviction for the same in Floyd County. The court held that "a defendant may not be convicted of more than one count of impersonating a public servant pursuant to Indiana Code section 35-44-2-3 based on the same occurrence, even if there are multiple victims."

The court noted, "It is an issue of first impression whether the appropriate number of convictions for impersonating a public servant turns on the number of victims to whom the defendant misrepresents or, instead, on the number of occasions on which the defendant engages in the unlawful conduct."

An appellate panel consisting of Chief Judge John Baker and Judges Mark Bailey and Melissa May determined that IC 35-44-2-3 is a conduct-oriented statute focusing on the act of impersonating a public servant and the intent to mislead another person. The statute doesn't require the victim to actually believe or be induced by the misrepresentation, the court reasoned.

In its order, the Supreme Court didn't delve into the conviction component of the case, affirming the Court of Appeals and only delving into the sentencing issues.

When analyzing the sentencing components on appeal, the Court of Appeals judges used a balancing test and determined "the independent nature of each of these offenses leads us to conclude that they are not a single episode of criminal conduct." The court rejected Geiger's argument that the consecutive sentences exceeded the length allowed by IC 35-50-1-2, in part because the offenses in both counties constituted one episode of that conduct.

Justices agreed, citing Reed v. State, 856 N.E.2d 1189, 1201 (Ind. 2006), and Harris v. State, 861 N.E. 2d 1182, 1188 (Ind. 2007), that both addressed the "episode of criminal conduct" issue.

The balancing test cited from Reed says, "Although the ability to recount each charge without referring to the other can provide additional guidance on the question of whether a defendant's conduct constitutes an episode of criminal conduct, it is not a critical ingredient in resolving the question. Rather, the statute speaks in less absolute terms: 'a connected series of offenses that are closely connected in time, place, and circumstance.'"

Justices wrote they agreed with the appellate court's conclusion that the various offenses, committed at different times and in different counties, did not constitute a single episode of criminal conduct.

The Supreme Court addressed another point Geiger made about how proper consecutive sentences were in that he didn't receive advisory sentences on the individual convictions. But the court dismissed that claim by citing a decision from Aug. 8 in Robertson v. State, where the holding was that a court imposing a consecutive sentence is not limited to the advisory sentence.
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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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