The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a trial court and gave a Tippecanoe County man one day of credit, finding the rule of lenity required it to interpret the ambiguous sentencing statute in the defendant’s favor.
Chad Adams was arrested and charged with unlawful possession of a firearm with a prior felony as a Level 5 felony, along with other charges. As part of a plea agreement, Adams plead guilty to the Level 5 felony in exchange for the dismissal of the other counts.
The Tippecanoe Superior Court sentenced Adams to an aggregate term of four years, with 1 ½ years executed in the Indiana Department of Correction, 1 ½ executed in community corrections and one year of supervised probation.
Adams appealed, arguing the trial court failed to recognized the time he spent in jail prior to sentencing. After he was arrested, he was held in the county jail for six to eight hours before he was able to post bond.
In Chad E. Adams v. State of Indiana, 18A-CR-1544, the Court of Appeals reviewed the statute and caselaw, then concluded Adams was deprived of one day of his liberty prior to sentencing.
Although a pre-sentence report credited Adams with one actual jail day, the trial court had not calculated him as having spent one day in jail because he had not been incarcerated for 24 hours.
The state cited Dobeski v. State, 64 N.E.3d 1257 (Ind. Ct. App. 2016) https://www.in.gov/judiciary/opinions/pdf/12121601rra.pdf and argued Adams was not entitled to any accrued time. In Dobeski, the Court of Appeals found Indiana caselaw and the statute, Indiana Code section 11-8-8-7 indicated a “day” was a 24-hour period running from midnight to midnight.
However, in Adams, the appellate court noted the governing statute, I.C. section 35-50-6-0.5, made neither a reference to days, as argued by Adams, nor hours, as argued by the state. The Court of Appeals then turned to Day v. State, 57 N.E. 3d 809, 813 (Ind. 2016), https://www.theindianalawyer.com/articles/41296-spitting-satisfies-fighting-element-of-disorderly-conduct-statute which held that in criminal cases, the courts should interpret ambiguous statutes in the defendant’s favor.
“Further, we can only imagine the burden placed upon the Department of Correction if required to ‘clock in’ a defendant upon his or her arrest and then ‘clock out’ that defendant upon the posting of bond for purposes of determining the ‘time’ spent in pre-sentence incarceration to be recognized to be recognized later against any sentence imposed,” Senior Judge Betty Barteau wrote for the court.
“We conclude that the rule of lenity informs us to implement the intent of the legislature by reversing the decision of the trial court and remanding the matter to the trial court for the issuance of an order awarding Adams with one day of accrued time.”
The unanimous panel reversed and remanded with instructions to the trial court to issue a corrected sentencing order recognizing the correct amount of time as one day. However, the appellate court affirmed that Adams’ sentence was not inappropriate in light of the nature of the offense and the character of the offender.