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Majority upholds habitual traffic violator conviction

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Four justices found that Indiana Code 9-30-10-16 indicating when a person commits a Class D felony while driving with a suspended license is not unconstitutionally vague and evidence supports a man’s conviction of Class D felony operating a motor vehicle as a habitual traffic violator.

At issue is whether Michael Lock’s conviction can be upheld when the only evidence admitted at trial as to whether his Honda Zuma’s “maximum design speed” exceeded 25 MPH was that Lock was clocked by radar going 43 MPH on a flat, dry surface. The state’s motor vehicle statutes allow someone with suspended driving privileges to operate motorized bicycles as long as certain requirements are met. One is that the vehicle’s “maximum design speed,” which isn’t defined, does not exceed 25 MPH.

Lock appealed his conviction, arguing the habitual traffic violator statute is unconstitutionally vague and that the evidence didn’t support his conviction. Only addressing the evidence issue, the Court of Appeals reversed in a split opinion.

But the majority of justices upheld Lock’s conviction, finding the statute is not unconstitutional. The justices looked at how an ordinary person would interpret the statute, finding one would interpret the statutory definition of “motorized bicycle” to exclude any devices having a highest possible speed – as conceived of, planned or devised – of more than 25 MPH, Justice Mark Massa wrote. It’s possible that the manufacturer could design the bicycle to not go more than 25 MPH, but after-market modifications could be made. This is probably why the Legislature used the broader term of “maximum design speed” over “maximum manufacture’s design speed,” Massa pointed out.

The majority also found the stipulation that Lock was clocked driving 43 MPH supported his conviction.

Justice Robert Rucker believed the state didn’t prove the elements of Class D felony operating a vehicle while suspended, so he would reverse. He didn’t address the constitutional issue.

“I would read Indiana Code section 9-13-2-109 evincing the Legislature’s intent to exclude those motorized bicycles which, among other things, a manufacturer has designed to travel safely at a maximum speed no greater than twenty-five miles an hour,” he wrote. “That is not to say that the vehicle is incapable of traveling in excess of that speed. Indeed it may very well do so, even if it means damage to the engine or other component parts.”

Construing the statute this way means that the actual speed Lock was traveling has no relevance to the question of “maximum design speed,” he wrote.

 

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