COA: Syringe offense not subject to felony enhancement

May 31, 2018

A felony enhancement against a Clinton County man convicted of possessing a syringe must be dismissed after the Indiana Court of Appeals found the man’s offense is not subject to an enhancement.

In Tyler Dale Knutson v. State of Indiana, 12A04-1709-CR-2246, Tyler Dale Knutson was charged in April 2017 with unlawful possession of a syringe, a Level 6 felony under Indiana Code section 16-42-19-18. The state then separately enhanced the charge under section -27 to a Level 5 felony based on a prior conviction.

Knutson moved to dismiss the charge, arguing there were not statutory grounds to enhance it to a Level 5 felony. The Clinton Superior Court denied the motion to dismiss, but the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed on Thursday.

Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote for the panel that the only section in Chapter 19 that includes an offense level is the section dealing with possession of a syringe. Meanwhile, section -27, known as the general offense-level statute, lays out the grounds for when certain drug convictions can be enhanced based on prior convictions.

The panel agreed with Knutson that the general-offense level statute does not apply to the syringe statute because the former begins with the phrase “(u)nless otherwise specified,” and the latter “otherwise specifies” that the offense of possession of a syringe is a Level 6 felony.

“Thus, in back-to-back sections of the same public law, the legislature specified that it is a Level 6 felony to possess a syringe (but notably did not add offense levels to any of the other sections in Chapter 19) and then added the phrase ‘Unless otherwise provided’ to the general offense-level statute,” Vaidik wrote. “Given these back-to-back amendments, it is clear to us that the legislature did not intend for the general-offense level statute to apply to unlawful possession of a syringe.”

“… Although we can understand why the legislature might want to penalize the possession of a syringe as a Level 6 felony – which has a sentencing range of six months to two-and-a-half years … – we can see why it would not want to crowd our prisons with drug addicts by making it a Level 5 felony, which has a significantly higher sentencing range of one to six years …,” she wrote.

The case was remanded with instructions for the trial court to dismiss the Level 5 felony enhancement. 


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