Sentence for ‘recidivist drunk driver’ affirmed

February 28, 2018

A southern Indiana man’s five-and-a-half-year sentence for his conviction as a habitual vehicular substance offender was affirmed by the Indiana Court of Appeals, which called him “a recidivist drunk driver whose behavior has been undeterred by his prior contacts with the criminal justice system.”

Eric P. Wheeler was convicted in Washington Circuit Court of Class A misdemeanor operating a vehicle while intoxicated, and the habitual vehicular substance offender count. He had been charged in this case with more serious counts after allegedly driving his car through a working single-car crash scene, endangering deputies who were working to clear the crash.

Wheeler challenged admission of his blood test results immediately prior to his trial, as well as charging information that was amended to eliminate one of Wheeler’s predicate offenses to the habitual charge. Wheeler also argued his sentence was inappropriate.

Judge Paul Mathias rejected each of those arguments in affirming the sentence in Eric P. Wheeler v. State of Indiana, 88A05-1703-CR-541.

“The nature of Wheeler’s offense does little to convince us that this sentence is inappropriate. He drove his vehicle while intoxicated and ran into a well-marked accident scene, hitting a police officer and two vehicles. If not for the quick response of (Washington County Sheriff’s) Deputy (Joe) Keltner and Deputy (Brad) Naugle, their injuries could have been more severe. Indeed, Wheeler is extremely fortunate that no one was killed. Wheeler’s behavior immediately after the accident was belligerent and disrespectful. Instead of checking to see if anyone was injured, he cursed at the deputy and threatened to sue him,” Mathias wrote.

The panel also found the amendment of charging documents was for an immaterial defect, and that the belated admission of a blood test showing Wheeler’s alcohol level was merely cumulative of other evidence.



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