Court upholds sentences for OWI, driving with forfeited privileges

The Indiana Court of Appeals has upheld the sentences imposed on a man convicted of driving while intoxicated and with a forfeited license, finding the man failed to prove his sentence was inappropriate. The appellate panel also determined an offender does not have to prove his sentence is inappropriate as it relates both to his character and the nature of his offense, but rather that an appellate court has to consider both of those factors.

After being found asleep in his running vehicle in the middle of two lanes of traffic, Jonathon Reis lifted his foot off the brake and rolled into a guardrail. Officers were able to unlock the vehicle and shut it off, then discovered a nearly-empty bottle of vodka in the vehicle.

After officers successfully woke up Reis, they discovered his license was suspended for life. After Reis failed a portable breath test and acknowledged his license was suspended, he pleaded guilty as charged to Level 5 felony operating a motor vehicle while privileges are suspended for life and Class A misdemeanor operating a vehicle while intoxicated endangering a person.

During sentencing, the Posey Superior Court placed a “great deal of weight” on Reis’ 17 prior convictions and his “terrible alcohol problem.” The court then sentenced him to five years executed in the Indiana Department of Correction for his felony conviction and one year in a community corrections program for the misdemeanor offense.

On appeal in Jonathon D. Reis v. State of Indiana, 65A01-1707-CR-1563, Reis argued his sentence was inappropriate considering his character. But Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Margret Robb, writing for a unanimous appellate panel, upheld Reis’ sentences in a Monday opinion.

The state first argued on appeal that because Reis did not make an argument regarding the nature of the offense – which he agreed with the trial court was “egregious” – he waived review of his sentence under Indiana Appellate Rule 7(B).

The state relied on Sanders v. State, 71 N.E.3d 839 (Ind. Ct. App. 2017), but Robb wrote the current appellate panel disagreed with the Sanders holding that a defendant must prove his argument related to both the nature of his offense and his character. Instead, Robb said the holding in Connor v. State, 58 N.E.3d 215 (Ind. Ct. App. 2016) is consistent with the purpose of Rule 7(B).

Robb then went on to write that because Reis endangered the community by driving while intoxicated and with a forfeited license, the “admittedly egregious” nature of his offenses supported his sentences. Similarly, Reis’ extensive criminal record “reflects so poorly on his character that it outweighs any positive consideration from his guilty plea,” she said, thus affirming his sentences on character grounds, as well.

“We applaud the fact that Reis was able to be free of convictions for three and one-half years prior to this conviction and that he admits his alcohol problem,” Robb wrote. “However, this is not sufficient to find his character warrants a reduction of his sentence.”

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