COA rejects Proportionality Clause claim, affirms 35-year sentence

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A man convicted of multiple felony counts in 2011 and sentenced to an aggregate of 35 years in prison failed to convince the Indiana Court of Appeals that he was entitled to post-conviction relief under a Proportionality Clause theory.

Matthew Johnson was convicted of Class B felony counts of aggravated battery and possession of methamphetamine and Class C felony counts of battery, possession of methamphetamine and possession of chemical reagents or precursors with intent to manufacture controlled substances. His convictions were affirmed on direct appeal.

On Thursday, the COA affirmed denial of Johnson’s petition for post-conviction relief in Matthew Johnson v. State of Indiana,  79A05-1711-PC-2505. A post-conviction court in Tippecanoe County rejected his petition that claimed ineffective assistance of counsel because his appellate attorney failed to argue on appeal that Johnson’s conviction of Class B felony aggravated battery violated the Proportionality Clause of Article 1, Section 16 of the Indiana Constitution, which states, “All penalties shall be proportioned to the nature of the offense.”

Johnson argued in his PCR petition that there was a split among the COA regarding the clause between

Poling v. State, 853 N.E.2d 1270, 1276-7 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006), reh’g denied and Matthews v. State, 944 N.E.2d 29 (Ind. Ct. App. 2011), reh’g denied, and this alleged split made the Proportionality Clause argument stronger than the arguments appellate counsel presented on appeal.

But the PCR court rejected this claim, finding, “The Matthews decision was issued 14 months before appellate counsel filed his brief. Matthews was grounded in the 2008 Mann decision. These cases were existing precedent and failed to follow the Poling decision upon which Johnson relies. The Matthews case is directly on point in this case and was existing case law at the time of Johnson’s appeal. Thus, Johnson cannot demonstrate that the issue his appellate counsel failed to raise would have been clearly more likely to result in reversal or order for new sentencing.”

Those findings and the lower court’s rejection of Johnson’s petition were affirmed by the COA.

“Johnson has not demonstrated his appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to present a Proportionality Clause argument because the precedent existing at the time undermined the validity of Johnson’s proposed argument,” Judge Melissa May wrote for the panel. “Accordingly, we affirm.”

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