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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. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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