Split COA tosses habitual offender enhancement after car theft, police chase

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A man convicted on multiple charges related to a stolen vehicle and a police chase did not convince the Indiana Court of Appeals to overturn his unlawful possession of a firearm conviction, though a majority of judges did toss his habitual offender enhancement. A dissenting judge, however, would have let the enhancement stand.

In the case of Ike Campbell v. State of Indiana, 19A-CR-2414, officer Brandon Brown of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department was patrolling a gas station at 38th Street and Sherman Drive in March 2018 when he observed a gold minivan in the parking lot. Brown ran the van’s plates and learned that the vehicle was stolen, so he called for backup.

While Brown was waiting, the van pulled away, so Brown began following the vehicle and activated his lights and sirens. The van then began to pick up speed and drove to an apartment complex, where the driver – later identified as Ike Campbell – took off running while the van was still in motion.

The van kept rolling and eventually struck Campbell, who fell and lost his shoes. The van then struck two other parked cars.

Brown then chased Campbell, who reached a hill and “tumbled” down. As he fell, Brown saw a “shiny object” fall out of Campbell’s pocket. The object was later discovered to be a gun.

Campbell was arrested when he reached the bottom of the hill and was charged a few days later with three felonies — unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felony, auto theft and resisting law enforcement — and four misdemeanors, including resisting law enforcement by flight, possession of marijuana and two counts of leaving the scene of an accident. Later, the state amended the charges to add an eighth count, Class A misdemeanor resisting law enforcement by force.

Then in May, the state notified Campbell that it would file for a habitual offender sentencing if plea negotiations were unsuccessful. A plea agreement was presented, but the terms are unknown. However, the state insisted throughout the proceedings that Campbell plead guilty to unlawful possession of a firearm.

In August 2018, Campbell told the state he was only interested in pleading guilty to the resisting law enforcement by flight and possession of marijuana charges, but the state declined that offer. The following January, the state again offered its May 2018 plea deal, but Campbell again declined.

A February 2019 invitation for Campbell to make a counteroffer again reiterated Campbell’s willingness to only plead to the two misdemeanor charges, so the state filed a habitual offender enhancement, which the Marion Superior Court allowed. The enhancement was granted the night before Campbell’s continued trial date, so that evening he filed an objection claiming the state had belatedly filed the enhancement and had not shown good cause.

His objection was overruled, but his trial was again continued to June. A jury found Campbell guilty on all counts and also determined he was a serious violent felon and a habitual offender. The resisting-by-flight and leaving-the-scene convictions were vacated, and Campbell received an aggregate 33-year sentence in the Indiana Department of Correction.

In a partial reversal Monday, the Indiana Court of Appeals agreed with Campbell that the trial court abused its discretion by allowing “the belated filing of an habitual offender enhancement one business day before trial without requiring or making any finding of good cause for the tardiness.”

“Ultimately, we are not persuaded that the State’s periodic tendering of the same plea offer that had been repeatedly rejected by a defendant, whose position remained constant, constitutes ongoing plea negotiations,” Judge Margret Robb wrote.

“The State filed its notice of intent to file the habitual offender charge in May 2018 but then waited until the day before trial to actually do so. The state had ample opportunity within the statutory time frame to file a timely habitual offender enhancement and, in fact, even represented that it planned to do so several times,” Robb wrote. “Although the trial had been scheduled and subsequently rescheduled several times, there were no pending or outstanding issues that would have prevented the State from filing the enhancement nor was there any indication that the matter would not proceed to trial. The States offers no reason, and we are unaware of any, as to why it could not have filed the habitual offender charge and continued with plea negotiations.”

Thus, the case was remanded with instructions to vacate the habitual offender enhancement and to resentence Campbell accordingly. However, his challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence on the unlawful possession charge was not successful.

Campbell claimed the state had to prove both that he possessed the gun and that he knew of his serious violent felon status when he possessed it. He argued that the decision in Rehaif v. United States, 139 S.Ct. 2191 (2019), “call(ed) into question” the holding in Rhone v. State, 825 N.E.2d 1277, 1286-87 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005), trans. denied, which held that state statute “does not require proof that [a defendant] knew he was a serious violent felon.”

But the COA disagreed, noting that Indiana Code § 35-47-4-5(c) holds that “[a] serious violent felony who knowingly or intentionally possess” a firearm commits unlawful possession.

“Here, the syntax is critical: ‘knowingly’ modifies the verb ‘possess’ and its direct object, a firearm,” Robb wrote. “The text of the federal statute at issue in Rehaif differs significantly from the text of Indiana’s statute and therefore, cannot support Campbell’s interpretation. The state was not required to prove that Campbell knew he was a serious violent felon when he unlawfully possessed a firearm.”

Judge Terry Crone concurred with Robb’s majority opinion, but Judge Elaine Brown partially dissented.

In a separate opinion, Brown said she would not have found an abuse of discretion in the trial court’s grant of the motion to add the habitual offender enhancement.

“Given that the State filed a notice on May 22, 2018, asserting that it intended to file an habitual offender sentencing enhancement if good faith plea negotiations were unsuccessful, the trial court granted Campbell’s motion to continue, and a trial was not held for more than four months after the habitual offender charge was filed, I would conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the State to file the habitual offender allegation,” Brown wrote. “I concur with the majority in all other respects.”

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