Justices toss OWI convictions, adopt new substantive double jeopardy test

Overruling a constitutional test for resolving claims of substantive double jeopardy and adopting a new test in its place, the Indiana Supreme Court has partially reversed a man’s drunken driving convictions on double jeopardy grounds. His 16-year sentence, however, will remain.

Justice Christopher Goff wrote for the unanimous court Tuesday in Jordan B. Wadle v. State of Indiana, 19S-CR-340.

The case began at a bar in Connersville, where Jordan Wadle was involved in a fight. Once he returned to his car, Wadle struck his victim, Charles Woodward, from behind and then again, this time pinning Woodward under a guardrail. Woodward survived the attack but spent almost two months in the intensive care unit.

When police caught up with Wadle, his blood-alcohol level was nearly twice the legal limit. He was ultimately convicted of four felonies: Level 3 felony leaving the scene of an accident, Level 5 felony operating a vehicle while intoxicated causing serious bodily injury, and Level 6 felony counts of OWI endangering a person and OWI with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more.

The Fayette Superior Court sentenced Wadle to 16 years, with two years suspended to probation.

A panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals partially reversed Wadle’s convictions last year  under the “actual evidence” test in Richardson v. State, 717 N.E.2d 232 (Ind. 1999). The lower appellate panel remanded for the trial court to vacate all but Wadle’s conviction of leaving the scene of an accident.

The Supreme Court likewise remanded for the trial court to vacate all but the leaving-the-scene conviction, enacting a new double jeopardy test in its decision. The application of Richardson – which Goff described as a “comprehensive framework” consisting of a statutory elements test and an actual evidence test – left the state with “a patchwork of conflicting precedent, a jurisprudence of ‘double jeopardy double talk.’”

“For these reasons, we expressly overrule the constitutional tests formulated in Richardson as they apply to claims of substantive double jeopardy,” he wrote. The justices said the Indiana Double Jeopardy Clause “should focus its protective scope exclusively on successive prosecutions for the ‘same offense.’”

But when double jeopardy concerns arise from multiple punishments for one offense, the analysis should focus on the statutory offenses charged as well as the facts underlying those offenses, the court held. It noted, however, that substantive double jeopardy does not completely fall “beyond the constitutional pale,” as “(t)he Indiana Bill of Rights offers a larger framework of constitutional guarantees designed to protect Hoosiers ‘from the excesses of government.’”

Under the statutory question of a substantive double jeopardy inquiry, if the language of a statute permits multiple punishment, then there is no violation. But if the language is not clear, courts must apply the included-offense statutes.

“If neither offense is an included offense of the other (either inherently or as charged), there is no violation of double jeopardy,” Goff wrote. “If, however, one offense is included in the other (either inherently or as charged), the court must then look at the facts of the two crimes to determine whether the offenses are the same.

“… If the facts show two separate and distinct crimes, there’s no violation of substantive double jeopardy, even if one offense is, by definition, ‘included’ in the other,” he continued. “But if the facts show only a single continuous crime, and one statutory offense is included in the other, then the prosecutor may charge these offenses only as alternative (rather than as cumulative) sanctions. The State can rebut this presumption only by showing that the statute — either in express terms or by unmistakable implication — clearly permits multiple punishment.”

Applying the new test to the merits of Wadle’s case, the high court determined the statutory offenses charged indicated alternative, rather than multiple, punishments, creating double jeopardy violations.

On the Level 6 felony convictions — OWI endangering a person and OWI with a BAC of 0.08 or more — the state conceded and the court agreed that “(n)either statute clearly permits cumulative punishment and the latter offense is an included offense of the former.”

Likewise as to Wadle’s convictions of leaving the scene and OWI causing serious bodily injury, “(n)either statute clearly permits multiple punishments … .” The court also determined the OWI conviction is included in the leaving-the-scene conviction.

“Having determined that one offense is included in the other, we must now look at the facts to determine whether the two offenses are the same,” Goff wrote. “… Because Wadle’s actions were ‘so compressed in terms of time, place, singleness of purpose, and continuity of action,’ we consider them ‘one continuous transaction.’”

Though the high court remanded the case to vacate all but the leaving-the-scene conviction, it let stand Wadle’s sentence, finding that the Level 3 felony alone justified the maximum 16-year term that was imposed.

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