The Indiana Court of Appeals has vacated two felonies against the man convicted of leaving the scene of a boating accident on Lake Monroe which killed two people.
Winston Wood was convicted last year of three felonies—two Class C felonies for leaving the scene of a boating accident resulting in the death of a person and one Class D felony for leaving the scene of a boating accident resulting in bodily injury.
The appeals court says convicting Wood for three counts based on the same action—leaving the scene—amounts to double jeopardy.
The judges upheld one Class C felony saying Wood violated an Indiana law that prohibits a person from leaving the scene of an accident without providing “reasonable assistance to each person injured, including carrying or arranging for carrying each injured person to a physician, surgeon, or hospital for medical or surgical treatment if . . . it is apparent that treatment is necessary.”
Monroe County Deputy Prosecutor Bob Miller says at the time of charging, how many charges are filed depends on the number of victims. This case it involved a woman, her husband and her grandson.
“At the time of sentencing or the time of imposition of judgment on the convictions, it is at that time the court would consider whether the law would require them to merge,” Miller says. “In this case, the law was unclear with respect to this particular statute about mergers.”
With this ruling, Miller says the court clarified that the convictions should have been merged.
The case was decided by a 2-1 ruling.
One appellate judge dissented, saying the Indiana law Wood was convicted of violating is unconstitutional.
“The statute did not give Wood fair notice that it was forbidden conduct to leave the scene of the accident even if Wood feared for his safety or that of his passengers and that necessity demanded that he leave the immediate accident scene. As our appellate courts have repeatedly said, ‘no man shall be held criminally responsible for conduct which he could not reasonably understand to be proscribed,’” Judge James Kirsch writes.
Wood’s attorney Katharine Liell says she agrees with Kirsch. She plans to appeal that part of the ruling to the state Supreme Court within the next 30 days because she says people cannot be criminally responsible for doing something that defies logic.
“Calling 911, jumping in the water to see if he could render aid, to render aid, doing what the police told you to do and staying at the marina and caring for your own passengers in your boat and making sure of their safety, no ordinary citizen would think that was criminal,” Liell says.
Because Wood was serving his sentences concurrently, the appeal order will not affect the time he must serve. Wood served two years in jail including the time he was awaiting the trial. He is currently in home detention.
The court order does require Wood be returned $2,000 in fines he was charged for the convictions.