The Indiana Supreme Court define “term of imprisonment”

After years of confusion, the Indiana Supreme Court has finally clarified and defined the meaning of “term of imprisonment” as used in the criminal statute on sentencing for misdemeanors crimes. On February 20, 2013, the Indiana Supreme Court held in Jennings v. State that the phrase “term of imprisonment” does not include suspended jail time. Previous case law had been inconsistent on whether “term of imprisonment” included both executed and suspended jail time. You may find the full case at: http://www.in.gov/judiciary/opinions/pdf/02201301mm.doc.pdf.

In Jennings v. State, a jury convicted Jennings of criminal mischief, a class B Misdemeanor, for vandalizing another man’s truck. The trial court sentenced him to 30 days executed, 150 days suspended and 360 days on probation. Jennings appealed contending that his sentence was illegal under Indiana law, which stated that the combined term of imprisonment and probation for misdemeanor may not exceed 1 year. Jennings argued that that his time executed and suspended counted towards his term of imprisonment. Consequently, his executed time (30 days) and suspended time (150 days) , plus his probationary term (360 days) exceed 1 year by 180 days.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals reasoned that “term of imprisonment” was not defined in the Indiana Code and the Courts had not settled on a definition. The Appeals concluded for purposes of the misdemeanor sentencing statute that “term of imprisonment” must include not only executed time, but also suspended time. The Court of Appeals held that in order to comply with the applicable statute the total sentence, including time executed, suspended and on probation may not exceed 1 year. The State petitioned for transfer to the Indiana Supreme Court.

On transfer, the Indiana Supreme Court overruled previous inconsistent case law and held that a combined term of probation and imprisonment may not exceed 1 year. The Indiana Supreme Court concluded that “term of imprisonment” does not included suspended time, only the total amount of time that a person is incarcerated.

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