The Indiana Habitual Offender Enhancement Just Got Much Worse for Felons

criminal defenseEffective July 1, 2017, the habitual offender statute in Indiana was changed. Recently, the Court of Appeals ruled that the former habitual offender statute required that for new low level felony charges (Level 5 and Level 6 felonies), prior low level felonies could not be used for the habitual offender enhancement if there was less than 10 years from the completion of the prior low level felony (parole, probation, or term of imprisonment) and the date of the new offense. Under the new Indiana habitual offender statute effective July 1, 2017, the restriction of ten years on prior low level felonies has been removed.

If any one of the priors was a low level felony, then the habitual offender enhancement is proper if any one of the prior felonies was committed within ten years — whether that felony is a low level felony or not.

So what does this mean for felons charged with a crime today?
Indiana criminal defense attorneys believe the change in the law will make it easier for the State to file the habitual enhancement, even though any older felony charges may have been minor. Until now, the trend in habitual offender legislation was to recognize that lower level felony offenses should be treated with less punitive consequence than more serious felony convictions.

The Indiana Court of Appeals expressed in Johnson v. State that “long-term visible policy has turned on two kinds of changes: (1) reducing the impact of prior offenses of lower rank, and (2) reducing the impact of convictions entered quite some years ago.” However, the Indiana legislature did not follow that trend in the most recent change in the law. Effective July 1, 2017, that distinction between older, low level felonies and more serious felonies has been removed. That means low level felony convictions can be used for a habitual offender enhancement even if the conviction is older than ten years.

About the Indiana Habitual Offender Enhancement
The habitual offender enhancement ranges from six to twenty years for a new charge of murder and Level One through Level Four felonies. The enhancement is two to six years for Level Five and level Six felonies. You don’t need criminal defense attorneys to tell you that this time bump is significant. As the legislative bodies continue the trend toward criminalizing more and more conduct, the habitual offender statute can now be applied to more and more cases. That makes it more important than ever for anyone charged with a felony in Indiana to work with a criminal defense law firm.

Jane Ruemmele and Charles Hayes at Hayes Ruemmele LLC are criminal defense attorneys experienced in handling serious felony cases where the State seeks lengthy prison terms, including the habitual offender enhancement. We want to help you.