Indiana Criminal Defense Attorneys

Indiana Habitual Offender Enhancements Attorney

Indiana habitual offender enhancements can result in big surprises for defendants at sentencing. The addition of a habitual offender enhancement can extend your felony sentence far beyond what you expected—as much as 20 years on top of the underlying sentence. Understanding Indiana habitual offender sentencing laws, commonly known as the Indiana three strikes law, is key to fighting these extended sentences. To do that, you need help from the Indiana criminal defense attorneys at Keffer Hirschauer LLP.

Explaining Indiana Habitual Offender Enhancements

Indiana criminal law provides sentencing ranges based on the offense committed. Certain factors, such as the circumstances or specific facts of the offense and a history of prior offenses can affect either the offense charged or the sentence imposed. In the case of some felony convictions, the State may argue that your criminal history makes you a “habitual offender.” If the State succeeds in that argument, the trial court could enhance or add more time to the end of your sentence.

To diminish or prevent the effect of Indiana habitual offender enhancements, you need a firm with experienced Indiana criminal defense attorneys who have a thorough understanding of Indiana criminal law—sentencing in particular. Look no further than the highly respected and experienced criminal defense team at Keffer Hirschauer LLP. With decades of collective experience, including as former prosecutors, the criminal defense attorneys at Keffer Hirschauer provide top-tier criminal defense throughout Indiana.

The Indiana Habitual Offender Enhancements Law

Indiana criminal law provides for habitual offender enhancements under Indiana Code § 35-50-2-8. The statute sets out the length of time the court can add to a sentence for a felony conviction. The enhancement or additional time to be added is based on the level of the underlying convicted offense.

To be subject to a habitual offender enhancement, the State must prove that you are a habitual offender by showing that you have accumulated a certain number of prior unrelated felony convictions. The exact number and type of previous convictions the State must prove depend on the level of the offense for which you’re being sentenced.

If you are to be sentenced for murder or a Level 1 through Level 4 felony, the State must show the following to have you declared to be a habitual offender:

  • At least two prior unrelated felony convictions
  • At least one of your prior unrelated felony convictions is higher than a Level 6 or a Class D felony

If you are to be sentenced for a Level 5 felony, the State must show the following to have you declared to be a habitual offender:

  • At least two prior unrelated felony convictions
  • At least one of your prior unrelated felony convictions is higher than a Level 6 or a Class D felony
  • If the State is relying on prior felony convictions that are Level 5 or Level 6 under the current sentencing statutes or Class C or Class D under the prior sentencing statutes, no more than 10 years have passed between concluding the later of your incarceration, probation, or parole and your commission of the offense for which you are to be sentenced

If you are to be sentenced for any felony offense, the State must show the following to have you declared to be a habitual offender:

  • At least three prior unrelated felony convictions
  • At least one of your prior unrelated felony convictions is a Level 6 or Class D offense or higher
  • Regarding at least one of the prior unrelated felony convictions, no more than 10 years have passed between concluding the later of your incarceration, probation, or parole and your commission of the offense for which you are to be sentenced

The statute also defines the type of convictions that are unrelated for purposes of determining Indiana habitual offender enhancements:

  • The second offense must have been committed after you were sentenced for the first offense
  • The current offense for which the State seeks to add a habitual offender enhancement was committed after you were sentenced for the first prior offense
  • Where habitual offender status requires a showing of three prior felony convictions, the third offense must have been committed after you were sentenced for the second offense

Also, a prior felony offense cannot be used for a habitual offender sentence enhancement if the conviction was later set aside (as in reversed on appeal) or pardoned.

How Indiana Habitual Offender Enhancements Work

Habitual offender status under the Indiana three strikes law is not automatic. The process for being sentenced as an Indiana habitual offender is similar to the criminal proceedings followed for obtaining a conviction. The State must file a charging information or indictment alleging you to be a habitual offender. The information or indictment must set out the conviction sought to be enhanced and the required number of unrelated prior convictions depending on the level of the current offense.

The information alleging habitual offender status must be on a separate filing from the underlying criminal offenses for which you are being charged. You are also entitled to an initial hearing, where the trial court advises you of the charge and your rights. You will be asked whether you admit that you have accumulated the prior unrelated convictions.

If you deny that you have prior unrelated convictions to qualify you as a habitual offender, you are entitled to have that determined by the trier of fact. If your underlying case was tried to a jury, then the jury must be reconvened to determine whether you are a habitual offender. If you did not have a jury trial, then the trial judge is the trier of fact to determine whether you are an Indiana habitual offender.

Having legal counsel with deep knowledge of criminal defense in Indiana at this stage is critical. A seasoned Indiana criminal defense attorney from Keffer Hirschauer LLP can advise you whether it is in your best interest to deny the prior convictions and ask the State to prove them in a separate trial or, instead, whether you should admit to the criminal history alleged and proceed to sentencing.

The Indiana Three Strikes Law: Other Considerations

Wading through Indiana criminal law on habitual offender status can feel like a swim through quicksand. The status has numerous definitions, qualifiers, and exceptions. Among the exceptions are these.

First, in the course of your habitual offender proceedings, the State may not seek to add a habitual offender enhancement to an underlying conviction that was elevated from a misdemeanor to a felony because you have a prior conviction. But the court can use a misdemeanor-raised-to-a-felony as one of the prior unrelated felonies to support habitual offender status.

Additionally, even though you may deny having prior unrelated felonies, you may not collaterally attack the prior convictions in the habitual offender proceedings. In other words, you may not concede that you have the prior conviction but argue that the conviction is erroneous for some reason. This rule does have one exception—you may contest a prior conviction if you can show that it is in some way the result of a violation of the US Constitution or the Indiana Constitution.

Indiana Habitual Offender Enhancements

Habitual offender status is not a crime, but it does come with an additional sentence. If the trier of fact determines that you meet the statutory definition of an Indiana habitual offender, or if you admit to that status, the court can add additional time to your sentence for the underlying offense. The court must attach the enhancement to the underlying felony conviction with the highest sentence imposed and specify which count or offense is affected.

If you were convicted of murder or a Level 1 through Level 4 felony in the underlying case, the court can add six to 20 years to your sentence. If you were convicted of a Level 5 or Level 6 felony in the case below, the court can add two to six years to your sentence.

At Keffer Hirschauer, we understand the seriousness of Indiana habitual offender enhancements. We will work with you to develop strategies such as expungement to help reduce or minimize your risk of a longer sentence.

Indiana Habitual Substance Offender Enhancements

A habitual vehicular substance offender (HVSO) enhancement is possible for drivers with prior convictions for operating a vehicle intoxicated, commonly called a DUI, OWI, or OVWI. The State may seek this enhancement under Indiana Code § 9-30-15.5-2 if:

  • You have two prior convictions for operating a vehicle while intoxicated, at least one of which occurred in the last 10 years, or
  • You have three prior convictions for operating a vehicle while intoxicated

A prior DUI conviction may be used as the basis for an HVSO enhancement if:

  • You committed the second alleged prior offense after you were sentenced for the first OVWI offense
  • You allegedly committed the current OVWI offense after you were sentenced for the second OVWI alleged as the basis for an HVSO sentence enhancement
  • If the State is alleging three prior OVWI convictions, the third was committed after you were sentenced for the second alleged OVWI offense

As with habitual offender enhancements, a prior conviction that has been set aside or reversed on appeal cannot be used as the basis for an HVSO sentence enhancement.

An HVSO sentence enhancement can significantly increase your sentence—from one to eight years—so it’s essential that you contact and Indiana criminal law attorney at the earliest point possible.

We Fight Indiana Habitual Offender Enhancements

Habitual offender status under the Indiana three strikes law has serious consequences for you and your loved ones. Your sentence could be doubled—or more—depending on the underlying offense and the habitual offender enhancement ordered by the trial court. To protect yourself, you need highly qualified Indiana criminal defense attorneys to help you through the process.

Whether your underlying conviction is for a drug crime, sex crime, gun crime, violent crime, theft, or white-collar crime, we know Indiana criminal law at Keffer Hirschauer LLP. Given our time as prosecutors and decades of trial experience collectively, we can help you understand Indiana habitual offender enhancements and fight to make sure your rights are protected throughout the sentencing process.

For a free consultation, contact Keffer Hirschauer LLP at (317) 202-1163 today. We want to help.

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