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Trial court improperly suspended driving privileges for life

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A Marion Superior Court exceeded statutory authority when it suspended a man’s driving privileges for life, the Indiana Court of Appeals has held. At the time Thomas Porter was arrested and charged, his driving privileges were suspended for life, but that was no longer the case when he was sentenced.

In Thomas Porter v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1205-CR-398, Thomas Porter was pulled over by a police officer because the officer was unable to read Porter’s license plate from 50 feet away based on poor lighting around the plate. He was charged with Class D felony operating a motor vehicle while being a habitual traffic violator and Class C felony operating a motor vehicle after his license had been forfeited for life.

Porter filed a motion to suppress and challenged every stage of the encounter. He claimed the lights had never been modified, and he could see the license plate in person. Photographs introduced by the state showed a shadow over part of the plate.

The judge found Porter guilty of the Class C felony and dismissed the other count out of double jeopardy concerns. At his sentencing hearing, the judge learned that Porter’s conviction in an arrest in 2008 in another county had been reduced to a misdemeanor, so his license was no longer suspended for life. The state sought to suspend Porter’s license for life, which the trial court granted.

“The record reveals evidence that Officer Montgomery had a reasonable and objectively justifiable basis for making the initial traffic stop. Even assuming that Porter’s vehicle met federal regulations, we cannot say that Officer Montgomery lacked reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop of Porter’s vehicle when he could not see the license plate from fifty feet away,” Judge Elaine Brown wrote.

The judges looked at Indiana Code 9-30-10-16 and -17 and found Section 17 does not provide for a lifetime suspension.

“Mindful that penal statutes should be construed strictly against the State, that ambiguities should be resolved in favor of the accused, and that the judicial function is to apply the laws as enacted by the legislature, we conclude that the trial court exceeded statutory authority and improperly suspended Porter’s driving privileges for life,” Brown wrote.

The case is remanded for further proceedings.

 

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  1. It really doesn't matter what the law IS, if law enforcement refuses to take reports (or take them seriously), if courts refuse to allow unrepresented parties to speak (especially in Small Claims, which is supposedly "informal"). It doesn't matter what the law IS, if constituents are unable to make effective contact or receive any meaningful response from their representatives. Two of our pets were unnecessarily killed; court records reflect that I "abandoned" them. Not so; when I was denied one of them (and my possessions, which by court order I was supposed to be able to remove), I went directly to the court. And earlier, when I tried to have the DV PO extended (it expired while the subject was on probation for violating it), the court denied any extension. The result? Same problems, less than eight hours after expiration. Ironic that the county sheriff was charged (and later pleaded to) with intimidation, but none of his officers seemed interested or capable of taking such a report from a private citizen. When I learned from one officer what I needed to do, I forwarded audio and transcript of one occurrence and my call to law enforcement (before the statute of limitations expired) to the prosecutor's office. I didn't even receive an acknowledgement. Earlier, I'd gone in to the prosecutor's office and been told that the officer's (written) report didn't match what I said occurred. Since I had the audio, I can only say that I have very little faith in Indiana government or law enforcement.

  2. One can only wonder whether Mr. Kimmel was paid for his work by Mr. Burgh ... or whether that bill fell to the citizens of Indiana, many of whom cannot afford attorneys for important matters. It really doesn't take a judge(s) to know that "pavement" can be considered a deadly weapon. It only takes a brain and some education or thought. I'm glad to see the conviction was upheld although sorry to see that the asphalt could even be considered "an issue".

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