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Double jeopardy principles not violated in OWI enhancement

April 25, 2019

A man with a record for driving under the influence was denied in his appeal to correct his enhanced sentence as a result of his adjudication as a habitual vehicle substance offender. An appellate court affirmed no double jeopardy violation in relying on his prior convictions to support the adjudication. 

After pleading guilty in July 2018 to Class A misdemeanor operating a vehicle with an alcohol concentration equivalent of 0.15 percent or more and admitting his adjudication as a habitual vehicle substance offender, Clark Hill was sentenced to one year for the misdemeanor, enhanced by one year for his HVSO adjudication.

Hill was previously convicted in 1995 of operating a vehicle with a BAC of 0.10 or more, as well as in 2010, for operating vehicle while intoxicated, endangering a person. 

In September 2018, Hill moved to correct erroneous sentence, alleging that his 1995 conviction used to support his HVSO status in the case in question was also used to support his habitual substance offender adjudication for the 2010 conviction.

Specifically, Hill alleged that the reliance of the 1995 conviction for his HSVO adjudication and sentence enhancement violated the double jeopardy prohibition. He argued that using the same conviction to support two separate habitual adjudications is “using the same set of facts to twice punish a defendant.”

He justified his argument by defending that his one-year HVSO enhancement resulted in an aggregate sentence of two years — double the maximum one-year sentence for his underlying conviction of Class A misdemeanor OWI.

But the Indiana Court of Appeals denied his request for it to reconsider the Indiana Supreme Court decision in Mayo v. State, 681 N.E.2d 689 (1987), which explicitly rejected that argument.

The COA found three reasons to deny Hill’s request: the COA remains bound by Indiana Supreme Court precedent; Mayo and other precedent decisions easily disposed of his argument, finding the U.S. Supreme Court has “consistently upheld recidivist or habitual offender statutes against double jeopardy claims;” and Hill’s interpretation that his HVSO enhancement should not result in an aggregate sentence that exceeds the maximum sentence for the underlying OWI conviction would lead to “absurd” results.

“Hill was convicted of a Class A misdemeanor. A trial court may sentence a person convicted of a Class A misdemeanor to no more than one year,” Judge James Kirsch wrote for the unanimous panel. “Once a person is adjudicated as an HVSO, the trial court ‘shall sentence a person found to be a [HVSO] to an additional fixed term of at least one (1) year . . . to be added to the term of imprisonment imposed under IC 35-50-2 or IC 35-50-3.’

“Thus, under Hill’s reasoning, the only way the trial court could have applied an HVSO enhancement to Hill’s underlying conviction was to impose no sentence whatsoever on the underlying OWI conviction,” Kirsch continued. “Such an interpretation would eviscerate a trial court’s well-established discretion in sentencing matters. We do not believe the legislature could have foreseen or countenanced such an unusual result.”

It therefore denied his motion and affirmed the trial court’s judgement in Clark Allen Hill v. State of Indiana, 18A-CR-2658.

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