Just because someone doesn’t pay child support for more than one son or daughter doesn’t mean the person can be charged more than once for that criminal nonpayment if there’s only one support order issued.
The Indiana Court of Appeals issued a decision today in Amir H. Sanjari v. State of Indiana, No. 20A03-1007-CR-384, a dramatic child support case out of Elkhart County. The father and mother had married in London in 1982, moved to Switzerland before the couple’s two children were born and they later moved to the U.S. Sanjari worked as a nuclear physicist at Notre Dame and eventually went to work as a medical physicist at a cancer treatment center in Goshen before they divorced in 2000.
At first, they shared joint custody but the mother obtained sole custody in 2001 and a long legal battle on custody and support began. Sanjari sought relief from federal courts and agencies for several years alleging a “train of conspiracy” against him by his former wife and the state courts. During that time he was moving between states and refusing to pay his support at all. The state charged him with two counts of Class C felony nonsupport of a dependent child in October 2006 when the amount totaled $17,728, but he remained at large and was ultimately arrested in California and extradited to Indiana in March 2009.
Jailed during the legal proceedings, Sanjari received repeated continuances and refused appointed and standby counsel as he attempted to represent himself. At one point he held a hunger strike in protest and a guardian ad litem was appointed. He eventually told the trial court he felt ill and couldn’t attend a pretrial hearing, and he tried to have an attorney from Ohio and Washington D.C. represent him. But that lawyer wasn’t licensed here and despite the court’s notice and repeated attempts to assist Sanjari, that out-of-state counsel wasn’t admitted and the hearing date arrived in late 2009. Sanjari complained of an ear infection in prison and the court held the hearing in his absence.
That became a part of the appeal when Sanjari argued the trial court erred in holding that hearing, but the Court of Appeals disagreed and said the man had received enough notice and there wasn’t evidence that he could not have attended.
Ruling against the father on nearly all of his points, the Court of Appeals did find in his favor on the issue of whether the double jeopardy prohibition had been violated by the two felony child support charges. Sanjari argued that only one child support order had been issued and it included both of his minor children, so he shouldn’t have been charged or convicted twice.
Analyzing Indiana Code Section 35-46-1-5(a), the appellate panel noted that the law says a person can be charged with a class C felony if the total amount of unpaid child support is at least $15,000 and is owed for one or more children.
The court vacated his second Class C felony nonsupport count, but affirmed the five-year sentence on the first one.