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Statute’s language gives courts discretion when reviewing petitions to reduce Class D felony to a misdemeanor

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A Hancock County man will not have his felony conviction reduced to a misdemeanor after the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled the state statute gives the courts the freedom to decide whether to grant or deny a petition.

John Alden appealed the trial court’s denial of his petition to reduce his Class D felony conviction for operating while intoxicated to a Class A misdemeanor. The COA affirmed, finding the lower court did not abuse its discretion in John Alden v. State of Indiana, 30A01-1209-CR-412. 

On June 1, 1993, Alden pleaded guilty to operating while intoxicated, a Class D felony, and was sentenced to 730 days, with 90 days served as in-home detention and the balance on informal probation. On July 13, 2012, he filed a petition seeking to reduce his felony convictions to a Class A misdemeanor. He asserted, among other things, he had not been convicted of a felony since the completion of his sentence.

However, while Alden was on probation, the state filed three petitions alleging that he had either failed to appear for random drug screens or pay his fees. Also, at his hearing to consider his petition, he acknowledged he had pleaded guilty to driving under the influence in Illinois in either 1997 or 1998.

At appeal, Alden argued his petition should have been granted and the evidence was sufficient to show that he met all of the statutory requirements for a reduction of his felony conviction.  

The COA turned its attention to the statute covering the sentencing range for Class D felonies. It concluded the Indiana General Assembly adopted a policy wherein trial courts can reward good behavior by removing the stigma of certain Class D felony convictions. However because the language includes the word “may” instead of “shall,” the statute does not create a right to the reduction.

“The word ‘may’ shows an intent by the legislature to give trial courts the discretion to grant or deny a petition, even if all of the statutory requirements have been met by the Petitioner,” Judge Rudolph Pyle wrote for the court. “While it is best for trial courts to keep in mind the policy preference of rewarding good behavior with a reduction on a Class D felony conviction to a  Class A misdemeanor, trial courts are free to deny a petition as long as the denial is supported by the logic and effect of the facts.”

 

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