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Justices vacate life sentence

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The Indiana Supreme Court vacated a convicted murderer's sentence of life in prison without parole because the trial court judge didn't have the authority to impose the sentence after the jury failed to reach a unanimous sentencing recommendation.

Kyle Kiplinger appealed his sentence of life in prison without parole following his convictions of murder and felony murder for the rape and death of Bobbi Jo Braunecker. Kiplinger and Darrick O'Brien gave her a ride home following a party and beat her and knocked her unconscious so O'Brien could have sex with her. They killed her and left her body in a river.

The state sought life without parole based on the qualifying aggravating circumstance that Kiplinger intentionally killed Braunecker while committing or attempting to commit rape. The jury found him guilty, but was unable to reach a unanimous decision on a sentence recommendation. The jury never returned a special verdict form finding the state proved the aggravating circumstance beyond a reasonable doubt, only that the state proved that the charged aggravating circumstance outweighed any mitigating circumstances. The judge then sentenced him to life without parole.

In Kyle Kiplinger v. State of Indiana, No. 62S00-0809-CR-486, Kiplinger argued the jury never found the charged aggravating circumstance had been proven by a reasonable doubt. The state claimed that the jury determined that the state had proved the charged aggravating circumstance outweighed the mitigating circumstances on a "special verdict form," and that this sufficiently demonstrated that the jury had found an aggravating circumstance beyond a reasonable doubt.

The jury in Kiplinger's trial wasn't able to reach a unanimous decision on the life sentence and its guilt phase verdicts don't necessary establish that the aggravating circumstance was proven beyond a reasonable doubt, wrote Justice Frank Sullivan.

"The jury found that the State had proved the charged aggravating circumstance out-weighed the mitigating circumstances. We acknowledge that it would be permissible to infer that the jury unanimously found the existence of the charged aggravating circumstance from this finding," he wrote. "We are unable, however, to infer that the jury found beyond a reasonable doubt that the State had proved the aggravating circumstance."

When a jury is unable to reach a unanimous decision as to the existence of an aggravating circumstance and the Sixth Amendment prohibits the trial judge from imposing a sentence of life without possibility of parole under Indiana Code Section 35-50-2-9(f), a new penalty phase trial is required.

The justices remanded for re-sentencing. If the state dismisses its request for the life sentence, then Kiplinger should be re-sentenced to a term of years. If not, then the trial court shall convene a new penalty phase jury.

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  1. Indianapolis Bar Association President John Trimble and I are on the same page, but it is a very large page with plenty of room for others to join us. As my final Res Gestae article will express in more detail in a few days, the Great Recession hastened a fundamental and permanent sea change for the global legal service profession. Every state bar is facing the same existential questions that thrust the medical profession into national healthcare reform debates. The bench, bar, and law schools must comprehensively reconsider how we define the practice of law and what it means to access justice. If the three principals of the legal service profession do not recast the vision of their roles and responsibilities soon, the marketplace will dictate those roles and responsibilities without regard for the public interests that the legal profession professes to serve.

  2. I have met some highly placed bureaucrats who vehemently disagree, Mr. Smith. This is not your father's time in America. Some ideas are just too politically incorrect too allow spoken, says those who watch over us for the good of their concept of order.

  3. Lets talk about this without forgetting that Lawyers, too, have FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND ASSOCIATION

  4. Baer filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals Seventh Circuit on April 30 2015. When will this be decided? How many more appeals does this guy have? Unbelievable this is dragging on like this.

  5. They ruled there is no absolute right to keep a license, whether it be for a lifetime or a short period of time. So with that being said, this state taught me at the age of 15 how to obtain that license. I am actually doing something that I was taught to do, I'm not breaking the law breaking the rules and according to the Interstate Compact the National Interstate Compact...driving while suspended is a minor offense. So, do with that what you will..Indiana sucks when it comes to the driving laws, they really and truly need to reevaluate their priorities and honestly put the good of the community first... I mean, what's more important the pedophile drug dealer or wasting time and money to keep us off the streets?

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