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Justices: One resisting conviction for fatal crash with injuries

July 2, 2018

The Indiana Supreme Court ruled that Indiana Code permits only one conviction of resisting law enforcement from a single incident, regardless of how many people are harmed in an accident.

The high court late Friday reversed two of Matthew Edmonds’ three Level 5 felony resisting law enforcement convictions stemming from a fatal crash in which he struck a passing vehicle, killing the driver and seriously injuring two other passengers.

In June 2015, Edmonds was pursued in a car chase by Indianapolis police officers after he stole food and clothing items from a Beech Grove Walmart. Police called off the chase when Edmonds began driving 80 miles per hour on a 40-mile-per-hour road. Police remained on the lookout for Edmonds, and later witnessed him drive through a red light at the intersection of State Street and Prospect Avenue where his car collided with the driver’s side of a pickup truck.

The impact flipped Donna Niblock’s truck in the air, and she later died as a result of her injuries. Niblock’s daughter and grandson survived the crash, but they each suffered serious injuries.

In its decision, the high court posed the question of whether Indiana Code section 35-44.1-3-1 allows for a Level 3 felony and two Level 5 felony convictions stemming from a single act of resisting law enforcement where the act of resisting resulted in the death of one person and serious bodily injury to two others.

It applied Paquette v. State, 63S04-1709-CR-570, another case decided Friday, in which both defendants used a vehicle to flee from law enforcement and the pursuit ended in a horrific crash involving innocent motorists. Both defendants also faced multiple felony resisting law enforcement charges stemming from a single act of resisting.

While reviewing Paquette v. State, the court found that Indiana Code section 35-44.1-3-1 was intended to authorize only one Level 3 felony conviction for each act of resisting, even where multiple deaths are caused by the use of a vehicle.

“Our rationale relied on principles of statutory interpretation to conclude that each discrete incident outlined in subsection (a) constitutes a separate offense of resisting law enforcement,” Justice Steven David wrote for the court. “When more than one of those incidents occurs, we may uphold multiple resisting law enforcement convictions, but a single discrete incident can be the basis for only one conviction. We also found that subsection (b), which makes an offense under subsection (a) a felony, creates no new or independent offense; the subsection merely enhances the degree of the offenses outlined in subsection (a).”

“Applying the Paquette holding, we find that here too the statute authorizes only one conviction — that is, the highest chargeable offense,” David continued. “Whether multiple people are killed or, as in this case, some are killed and others are seriously injured, the offense continues to be a single harm to the peace and dignity of the State if it stems from a single instance of resisting law enforcement.”

Therefore, the court determined Edmonds could only be convicted of one felony of resisting law enforcement where one act of resisting causes death and serious bodily injury in Matthew Edmonds v. State of Indiana, 18S-CR-50.

It reversed the two Level 5 felony resisting law enforcement convictions, affirmed the remaining convictions and remanded for resentencing. Edmonds had been sentenced to 25 years in prison on numerous convictions.

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