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Supreme Court will decide how gang enhancements are treated in sentencing

February 26, 2018

The Indiana Supreme Court will consider the treatment of criminal gang enhancements in sentencing decisions during an upcoming oral argument after granting transfer to a robbery case that led to vacated convictions and resentencing orders.

The high court granted transfer to Marquell Maurice Jackson v. State of Indiana, 18SCR-113, last week. Marquell Jackson was involved in a botched marijuana robbery scheme in Evansville that resulted in his conviction on numerous felonies, including burglary, attempted robbery and aggravated battery, as well as a criminal gang enhancement.

Jackson was sentenced to an aggregate of 60 years, but the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed in part in October, finding, among other things, that the state’s amendment of the gang enhancement charging language no longer tracked statutory language and, thus, changed the meaning of the charge. The appellate court remanded the case for the Vanderburgh Circuit Court to vacate the enhancement and the related sentence.

The state sought rehearing, but the appellate panel upheld its original decision in a subsequent December opinion. Addressing an issue of first impression, Judge Edward Najam wrote in December that the state had incorrectly argued a sentence imposed on a criminal gang enhancement is “equivalent” to a sentence on a habitual offender enhancement. The difference, Najam said, is that a criminal gang enhancement runs consecutively to other sentences, while a habitual offender enhancement attaches to a specific offense.

The state revisited the issue of how criminal gang enhancements should be treated in sentencing in its petition to transfer, which the justices unanimously granted. Oral argument has not yet been scheduled.

The court has also agreed to decide Erie Indemnity Co. v. The Estate of Brian L. Harris, et al., 18S-CT-114, an uninsured motorist case. The justices heard oral argument in the case on petition to transfer last week but has not issued a decision.

The Elkhart County case began when Brian Harris was struck and killed by Noel Sparks — who was driving a borrowed pick-up truck on a suspended license — while cutting the grass at his Goshen home. Harris had been employed by Formco Inc., which supplied him with a Toyota pick-up truck ensured by Erie Indemnity Company for business and personal use.

Harris’ estate submitted a damage claim to Erie under Formco’s uninsured motorist coverage, but Erie denied the claim because Harris was not a named insured and was not using or occupying his Toyota at the time of his death. The Indiana Court of Appeals, however, found ambiguity in the UM provision and interpreted the ambiguity in favor of the estate. Specifically, the appellate court found in July that Harris fell within the class of “others we protect” included as part of the policy’s UM coverage.

Finally, the Supreme Court granted transfer and handed down a decision last week in Brandon Mockbee v. State of Indiana, 18S-CR-111. The court remanded Mockbee’s case – which challenged his habitual offender enhancement to his burglary and obstruction of justice convictions – back to the Indiana Court of Appeals. The justices determined the lower court should reexamine the case in light of two December 2017 decisions: Matthew L. Johnson v. State of Indiana, 87 N.E.3d 417 (Ind. 2017) and Darryl Calvin v. State of Indiana, 87 N.E.3d 474 (Ind. 2017).

The justices also denied transfer to 16 other cases last week, including Leroy Washington v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1707-CR-1665, a case that spurred major civil forfeiture reforms in Indiana. After Leroy Washington was found in possession of more than 46 grams of marijuana, he was charged and convicted of Level 6 felony dealing. However, he filed his own federal suit against the Marion County prosecutor that ultimately led a district court judge to strike down part of Indiana’s civil forfeiture framework as unconstitutional.

Despite his federal court victory, the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld Washington’s felony conviction in December, finding sufficient evidence to support the conviction. The Supreme Court let that ruling stand when it denied transfer to Washington’s case.

The federal decision in Leroy Washington v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1707-CR-1665, was the basis of multiple civil forfeiture reforms included in Senate Bill 99, legislation that has so far moved through the Indiana General Assembly without amendment or opposition this year. The bill is scheduled for a final vote in the Indiana House of Representatives today.

The complete list of the Supreme Court’s transfer actions can be viewed here.

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