Enhancements for different offenses are permissible

April 7, 2015

A drunken driver handed a stiff sentence for repeated offenses was unable to convince the Indiana Court of Appeals his penalty was an improper double enhancement.

John Light pleaded guilty to operating a motor vehicle while privileges are forfeited for life, a Class C felony; operating a vehicle while intoxicated, a Class A misdemeanor, and an adjudication as a habitual substance offender.

The trial court sentenced him to an aggregate of 13 years, ordering his sentence for operating a motor vehicle while privileges are forfeited for life to be served consecutively with his habitual substance offender enhancement which was attached to his conviction for operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

Light appealed on the grounds that the consecutive sentences constituted an impermissible double enhancement.

The Court of Appeals did not agree and affirmed his sentence in John W. Light v. State of Indiana, 79A02-1409-CR-637. It distilled the appeal to a single issue of whether it was permissible to run the habitual enhanced sentence consecutively to the sentence for operating while forfeited for life which was itself already enhanced under a progressive penalty statute.

In Sweatt v. State, 877 N.E.2d 81, 84 (Ind. 2008), the Indiana Supreme Court held that when separate counts are enhanced based on the same prior felony conviction, ordering the sentences to run consecutively has the same effect as if the enhancements both applied to the same count.

The Court of Appeals noted that in Light’s case while the trial court seemingly relied on the same March 2002 conviction for operating while intoxicated to support enhancements for the Class C felony and Class A misdemeanor convictions, the underlying predicate offense was actually different for each enhancement.

For Light’s Class C felony enhancement, the predicate offense is operating a motor vehicle after driving privileges are forfeited for life. Conversely, the predicate offense for his habitual substance offender enhancement was a conviction for operating while intoxicated in 1995 with a prior conviction from 1993.


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