High court to consider interpretation of habitual offender statute

July 18, 2017

Indiana’s highest court will determine whether a lower court’s interpretation of the habitual offender statute will stand after granting transfer to a case that raises questions of proper statutory interpretation.

In Matthew L. Johnson v. State of Indiana, 32S05-1707-CR-469, Matthew Johnson faced habitual offender charges in two separate yet identical causes in 2015, with the state noting Johnson had been convicted of Class D felonies in 2001, 2005, 2006 and 2008. Johnson objected, arguing that under new legislation all lower-level felonies must have occurred during the last 10 years, but the trial court overruled the objection.

The Indiana Court of Appeals, however, reversed on interlocutory appeal, with Senior Judge Randall Shepard writing for the court that the language of the habitual offender statute supported neither the state’s position that only one of the prior unrelated felony convictions had to fall in the 10-year period, nor Johnson’s position that each unrelated felony must meet the 10-year requirement.

Instead, the appellate court interpreted the statute in this way: convictions from which the offender was released more than 10 years before the current offense do not count for habitual purposes under Indiana Code 25-50-2-8(d), while those from which the offender was released less than 10 years before the current offense do count. The Indiana Supreme Court will now determine the validity of that interpretation after granting transfer in Johnson’s case last week.

The high court also granted transfer to one other case last week in a per curiam opinion that reversed the decision to give a Bloomfield man a new trial.

In Michael A. Miller v. State of Indiana, 28S04-1707-CR-468, the high court agreed with an Indiana Court of Appeals decision that found the wrong standard of mens rea was used in Michael Miller’s attempted murder case. However, the high court reversed the COA’s remand for a new trial and instead found the appropriate remedy would be for the Greene Circuit Court to reconsider the case under the appropriate “specific intent to kill” mens rea. 

Justice Geoffrey Slaughter dissented on the high court’s decision to reverse the remand for a new trial, writing separately that he feared the judge “’may have a difficult, if not impossible, task of distancing himself from the evidence already considered and in considering the case entirely anew.’”

The high court denied transfer to 22 cases last week. The full list of transfer decisions can be viewed here



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