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Defendants can speak during allocution before sentencing

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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Criminal defendants who plead guilty have the right to make statements in allocution prior to sentencing, the Indiana Supreme Court has ruled.

The unanimous opinion authored by Justice Robert D. Rucker came late Wednesday in Nicholas Biddinger v. State of Indiana, No. 49S05-0608-CR-305.

Biddinger was arrested and charged with various felonies, including murder, in 2004; he pleaded guilty to aggravated battery during the trial in October that year. The agreement provided that parties could argue positions on sentencing, but the executed range could be 10 to 20 years.

At his sentencing hearing, Biddinger's counsel answered "no" when asked about mitigating evidence, but he later said his client wanted to make a statement. The trial court determined that he had no right to allocution where he'd pled guilty. The court allowed a four-page written statement to be introduced as evidence and then allowed Biddinger to give an oral statement expressing his remorse.

Then-Marion Superior Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson sentenced him to 12 years in prison with two years suspended to probation for a total of 10 years executed. Biddinger appealed on grounds that the court erred in refusing to permit him to make a statement in allocution. The Court of Appeals addressed that issue and ruled that even if the trial court had erred, it was harmless because the full written statement had been introduced and no additional information would have affected the sentence. However, the appellate judges didn't address the case authority on the allocution right being good law, and the Supreme Court granted transfer to address that question of whether it's allowed.

"The answer is yes," Justice Rucker wrote. "A defendant who pleads guilty has a right to make a statement in allocution upon request prior to sentencing. In this case the trial court erred by not allowing Biddinger to make a statement in allocution. But the error was harmless. Further, Biddinger has not demonstrated that his 10-year executed sentence to be served in the Department of Correction requires revision. We therefore affirm the judgment of the trial court."
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