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Prior conviction counts in sentencing decision

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A prior drunk-driving conviction - reached pursuant to a state statute now repealed and recodified in a newer law - can be used in determining a person's sentence, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today.

A unanimous six-page ruling in Wayne Schenk v. State of Indiana, No. 82A01-0806-CR-301, affirms a judgment from Vanderburgh Superior Judge Robert Pigman. The case follows Schenk's arrest in November 2007 on a charge of operating a vehicle while intoxicated. He pleaded guilty as part of an agreement that specified he'd be sentenced to 18 months on an adult alcohol abuse probation service, though the court would determine if any portion of that sentence could be suspended in lieu of a minimum six-month period on home detention.

Finding that Schenk had two prior OWI convictions from 1988 and 2003, the trial court sentenced him to 18 months, with six months executed on home detention and 12 months on probation. Schenk appealed, arguing that the 20-year-old conviction was pursuant to Indiana Code 9-11-2, which was repealed in 1991 and made a part of the revised motor vehicle laws of IC 9-30-5.

Schenk argued the court misinterpreted IC 35-50-2-2(b)(4)(R), which states anyone committing a drunk driving offense with at least two prior unrelated convictions can only receive a partial sentence suspension and, in this case, that minimum was six months.

The appellate panel looked at the legislative intent and also precedent in Holt v. State, 638 N.E.2d 786,787 (Ind. 1994) that determined an uncodified savings clause preserved the prior OWI conviction under an older statute since repealed and recodified.

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