Indiana Supreme Court Announces Single Act of Resisting Police Bars Multiple Counts, Regardless of Number of Officers Involved or People Killed
by David Reutter
The Supreme Court of Indiana held that Indiana Code § 35-44.1-3-1 authorizes only one conviction for felony resisting law enforcement where the defendant engages in a single act of resisting while operating a vehicle that causes multiple deaths.
After a motorist informed Indiana Police State Trooper James Manning that a blue Chevy Tahoe was driving northbound in the southbound lanes of I-69, Manning activated his patrol vehicle’s emergency signal and gave pursuit. He soon came up behind the Tahoe, driven by Brian Paquette.
Paquette initially slowed down, but he made a U-turn in the median and once again drove the wrong way—this time, traveling south in the northbound lanes. Manning continued pursuit. Two miles after making the U-turn, Paquette collided head-on with a vehicle carrying Stephanie Molinet and Autumn Kapperman. Both women died, as did Kapperman’s unborn child. The impact caused the Tahoe to flip, and it instantly killed Jason Lowe when it landed on the driver’s side of his car.
As officers waited for firefighters to extract the surviving Paquette from the Tahoe, he told them he believed he was being chased by farmers through a field. He also said he believed he was carrying a female passenger, but officers found no evidence of a passenger.
The State charged Paquette with 11 offenses. Among them were three counts each for resisting law enforcement by fleeing in a vehicle causing death, operating a motor vehicle with methamphetamine in his blood causing death, and reckless homicide. He also was charged with operating a vehicle with methamphetamine in his body, causing serious bodily injury to Lowe’s wife, Samantha, and possession of methamphetamine.
Paquette agreed to plead guilty to all charges but reserved the right to ask the court to enter only one conviction and sentence for felony resisting law enforcement, arguing that only one was allowed since he engaged in only one act of resisting. The prohibition against double jeopardy barred his conviction on all three counts of resisting, he argued.
The trial court disagreed and sentenced him to a total of 50 1/2 years in prison; he received 16 years on each felony resisting law enforcement count, to run consecutively.
Citing its own precedent in Armstead v. State, 549 N.E.2d 400 (Ind. Ct. App. 1990), the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for resentencing. It held Paquette engaged in only one act of resisting when he fled from police using a vehicle, so he could only be convicted of one count of resisting law enforcement. After granting the State’s request for transfer, the Indiana Supreme Court agreed with that rationale and result.
The Court stated that the question before it is “whether multiple convictions and sentences are permissible under Indiana Code section 35-44.1-3-1, where the defendant operated a vehicle in a manner that caused death to multiple people.”
The high court found that the two subsections of § 35-44.1-3-1 indicate the Legislature’s intent. Subsection (a) makes it a misdemeanor for a person to flee from law enforcement where the officer has “by visible or audible means … identified himself… and ordered the person to stop.”
Subsection (b)(3) makes it a felony to resist law enforcement while “operat[ing] a vehicle in a manner that causes the death of another person.” The Court found this subsection “merely moves the needle in terms of gravity.” It does not create a new or independent offense when invoked. “Rather, subsection (b) enhances the degree of the offenses outlined in subsection (a).”
As such, “the offense that involves a single affray with police will continue to be a single harm to the peace and dignity of the State, regardless of how many other people are killed.” Review of other statutes demonstrate Indiana’s “legislature is aware that multiple convictions for multiple harms caused by a single violation require explicit authorization....”
As an example, the Court pointed to the statute for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, which makes it a stand-alone crime by providing a person “commits a separate offense for each victim where death is caused by the violation.”
The Court explained that “only one resisting law enforcement conviction for each act of resisting” is allowed regardless of the number of police officers involved or how many people are killed. The act of resisting law enforcement constitutes “a single harm to the peace and dignity of the State….” Thus, the Court concluded “that Paquette could not be convicted of multiple resisting law enforcement charges stemming from a single act of resisting.”
Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court with respect to two of the three convictions for felony resisting. However, it added that “[s]ince one of Paquette’s other offenses allows for multiple convictions based on a single act of operating a motor vehicle, [it] remanded for the trial court to enter convictions under that statute for all victims” and instructed the trial court to sentence Paquette accordingly. See: Paquette v. State, 101 N.E.3d 234 (Ind. 2018).
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Related legal case
Paquette v. State
|Cite||101 N.E.3d 234 (Ind. 2018)|
|Level||State Supreme Court|