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Indiana Court of Appeals: Prior Conspiracy Conviction Counts Toward Habitual Offender Status
Posted in Litigation

In a case of first impression, the Indiana Court of Appeals held that a defendant’s prior conviction for conspiracy to deal in cocaine qualified as a conviction for dealing in cocaine, thereby making him eligible for an enhanced sentence under the habitual offender statute.  

In Owens v. State, the defendant Myron Owens was convicted of Class A felony dealing in cocaine within 1,000 feet of a youth program center, Class B felony possession of cocaine, Class D felony escape, Class D felony obstruction of justice, and Class A misdemeanor resisting law enforcement.  He was also found to be a habitual offender. 

Owens appealed the convictions, claiming insufficiency of the evidence to support his convictions for dealing cocaine and for obstruction of justice, and improper application of the habitual offender enhancement to his sentence for dealing in cocaine.  On review, the Court found the evidence sufficient to support Owens’s conviction for dealing and for obstruction of justice.  Next, the Court moved on to consider whether the habitual offender enhancement was applied properly, an issue of first impression for this Court.

Indiana’s habitual offender statute is codified in Indiana Code § 35-50-2-8.  Subsection [a] of the statute “generally provides that the State may seek to enhance a sentence if the defendant is a habitual offender, i.e. if the defendant has accumulated two prior, unrelated felony convictions.”  Other subsections of the statute go on to limit the applicability of subsection [a]. 

Under subsection [b], “a trial court may not enhance a drug offense under Section 8 if the instant felony offense being enhanced is not delineated in Indiana Code section 35-50-2-2(b)(4) and the defendant has not accrued two or more unrelated ‘dealing’ convictions.”  Under subsection [d], “a prior conviction for dealing or possession of an illegal drug does not count for habitual offender purposes if that crime was not listed in Section 2(b)(4) and the defendant has less than two prior dealing convictions.”  The parties agreed that Owens’s crime was not listed in Section 2(b)(4); however, they disagreed over the number of Owens’s prior dealing convictions.  

Owens had a prior felony conviction for dealing cocaine in 1995.  He also had a prior felony conviction for conspiracy to deal in cocaine in 2004.  The specific question presented to the Court was “whether Owens’s prior conviction for conspiracy to deal in cocaine qualifies as a conviction for ‘dealing in cocaine’ under Section 8(d)(3)(C)(ii).  The Court held that “Owens’s prior conviction for conspiracy to commit dealing is, for purposes of Section 8, a prior conviction for dealing in cocaine.”  In reaching its conclusion, the Court relied on the fact that the overt act which satisfied the conspiracy statute, thus leading to Owens’s conspiracy conviction, was Owens’s actual dealing in cocaine.

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