Enhancement to sentence upheld by COA

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Finding Indiana’s criminal gang enhancement statute can be understood by individuals of ordinary intelligence, the Indiana Court of Appeals rejected a man’s challenge to his 175-year aggregate sentence.
Nathaniel Armstrong was found guilty for his role in the murder and attempted murder of two men he believed had killed an Indianapolis rapper, Brandon “Bango” McMitchell.

The Marion Superior Court sentenced him to 65 years for murder, 65 years for criminal gang enhancement; 30 years for kidnapping as a Class A felony; and 45 years for attempted murder.

Armstrong appealed his sentence, arguing the state’s criminal gang enhancement statute – Indiana Code 35-50-2-15 – is unconstitutionally vague because it fails to clearly define what conduct is prohibited.

The state countered that the criminal gang enhancement does not require the defendant to act with specific intent to further the gang’s criminal goals. The enhancement applies to Armstrong because his gang membership was connected to the felony.

Pointing to the standard established in Klein v. State, 698 N.E.2d 296, 299 (Ind. 1998) which said the statute is not vague if “individual of ordinary intelligence” can comprehend, the Court of Appeals agreed with the state.   

“The statute requires the court to enhance a sentence only when the court finds that the State has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the person knowingly or intentionally was a member of a criminal gang while committing the felony offense and committed the felony offense at the direction of or in affiliation with a criminal gang,” Judge Elaine Brown wrote in Nathaniel Armstrong v. State of Indiana, 49A05-1312-CR-621. “The statute fairly informs a person of ordinary intelligence of the conduct which is forbidden. We cannot say that the statute is unconstitutionally vague.”


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