COA reverses hundreds in fees imposed upon thief

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A Clay County man will not have to pay a pair of fees imposed upon him by a trial court following his conviction of theft after the Court of Appeals of Indiana determined neither of the fees were authorized by statute.

In May 2021, Brian Sears tore off the price tag from a backpack on sale for $119.99 at the Ace Hardware store in Brazil. He also removed the price tag from a tool belt listed at $54.99.

When Sears went to the cash register, he presented the backpack for purchase and represented the detached price tag for the tool belt was the price tag associated with the backpack.

Consequently, Sears paid $54.99 for a backpack that cost $119.99. Surveillance footage captured Sears removing the price tags and the owner of the hardware store reported Sears’ activity to law enforcement.

The following month, the state charged Sears with Class A misdemeanor theft.

The Clay Circuit Court held a bench trial in February and found Sears guilty. It then imposed a one year sentence in the Clay County jail with all but 90 days suspended to probation.

As two conditions of his probation, Sears was ordered to pay a $200 drug interdiction fee and a $200 countermeasures fee.

On appeal, Sears argued the trial court erred as a matter of law. Both the state and appellate judges agreed.

Looking at Indiana Code § 45-48-4, Judge Elizabeth Tavitas wrote that Sears was not convicted of an offense listed in the chapter, so the trial court erred in imposing a drug interdiction fee.

Regarding the countermeasures fee, Tavitas also wrote the trial court also erred, as Sears was not convicted of an offense under I.C. 45-48-5.

“The trial court erred by imposing the drug interdiction fee and the countermeasures fee because neither fee was authorized by statute. We reverse and remand,” the appellate court wrote.

The state conceded the fees were erroneously imposed on Sears in Brian L. Sears v. State of Indiana, 22A-CR-555.

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected.

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