Misdemeanor conviction vacated for man in fatal three-car crash

A man who fled the scene of a three-vehicle crash that killed three people and seriously injured two others has had one of his reckless driving convictions vacated on double jeopardy grounds, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

In December 2018, Joel Barrozo was involved in the fatal crash in South Bend. Two people dead in the crash, two were seriously injured, and a toddler who was seriously injured later succumbed to her injuries.

When members of the St. Joseph County Fatal Crash Team arrived on the scene, witnesses stated the one of the drivers – Barrozo – had fled the scene on foot after the crash.

Barrozo was later charged with three counts of Level 5 felony leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death; two counts of Level 6 felony leaving the scene of an accident resulting in serious bodily injury; three counts of Level 5 felony reckless homicide; and two counts of Class A misdemeanor reckless driving.

Barrozo pleaded guilty without a plea agreement and was handed an aggregate 18-year prison sentence, but after the State of Indiana conceded that one of his reckless driving convictions constituted double jeopardy, the Indiana Court of Appeals partially vacated on appeal.

Noting that although the state conceded that Barrozo’s two reckless driving convictions cannot stand based on double jeopardy concerns, the appellate court found that occurred before Powell v. State, 19S-CR-527, 2020 WL 4783108 (Ind. Aug. 18, 2020)  revamped the relevant double jeopardy landscape.

“The crime of reckless driving, like the crime of OWI, is complete once the offender engages in the prohibited conduct. For both offenses, the underlying crime is a Class C misdemeanor that is complete as soon as the conduct occurs. The offense may be elevated — and the penalty enhanced — if a specific result or consequence occurs, such as bodily injury (elevating reckless driving to a Class A misdemeanor) or endangering a person (elevating OWI to a Class A misdemeanor). But the crime occurs — and may be punished — only once, because the unit of prosecution is the act of reckless driving,” Senior Judge John Baker wrote for the appellate court.

It therefore remanded with instructions to vacate one of those convictions and resentence Barrozo accordingly in the case of Joel Barrozo v. State of Indiana, 19A-CR-02037. The St. Joseph Superior Court had sentenced Barrozo to one year for each of the reckless driving convictions, meaning a potential one-year reduction of his sentence.

However, the appellate panel found Barrozo’s three reckless homicide convictions do not violate the prohibition against double jeopardy and affirmed the trial court’s decision in all other respects.

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