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Justices: law requires courts' reasons in sentencing

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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Trial courts must issue sentencing statements that include a detailed account of the judge's reasons for imposing penalties, such as aggravators and mitigators, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled today.

Additionally, the state's highest court has reiterated that it will only review a sentence on the grounds of abuse of discretion.

In a ruling that answers questions left open following the 2005 revision of state law regarding Indiana's sentencing structure, justices unanimously affirmed a Kosciusko Superior judge's decision in Alexander J. Anglemyer v. State of Indiana, 40S05-0606-CR-230.

"We hold that where a trial court imposes sentence for a felony offense, it is required to issue a sentencing statement that includes a reasonably detailed recitation of the trial court's reasons for the sentence imposed," Justice Robert D. Rucker wrote. "The standard of review is abuse of discretion."

Two other decisions issued today tie into the Anglemyer sentencing ruling: Morris Windhorst v. State of Indiana, 49S04-0701-CR-32, and Aaron D. McDonald v. State of Indiana, 20S03-0706-CR-252

Justice Rucker wrote all three opinions, referring to the Anglemyer decision in the Windhorst and McDonald rulings.

These cases are the latest in a growing line of litigation stemming from the United States Supreme Court's landmark 2004 ruling in Blakely v. Washington, which held that nation's sentencing structure was unconstitutional and that juries - not judges - must hear evidence before sentences can be enhanced. Indiana adopted in 2005 a similar ruling in Smylie v. State, and the legislature soon revised the law.

A portion of the law that courts have disagreed on involves the phrase, "If the court finds aggravating circumstances or mitigating circumstances," then a statement with reasons for that penalty should be imposed.

In the aftermath, the Indiana Court of Appeals has been divided on whether and to what extent trial judges are now required to make sentencing statements explaining their penalty decisions, and whether any such statements must include findings of aggravating and mitigating factors. A closely related issue has also been the scope and role of appellate review.

"This language suggests a legislative acknowledgment that a sentencing statement identifying aggravators and mitigators retains its status as an integral part of the trial court's sentencing procedure," Justice Rucker wrote in Anglemyer, noting that judges are only prohibited from finding aggravators and enhancing a sentence beyond the statutory maximum.

This case comes from Anglemyer's May 2005 arrest for beating and robbing a pizza delivery driver, and the subsequent plea agreement dictating a 16-year consecutive sentence - 10 years for the robbery and six years for battery. Anglemyer appealed on the issue of whether the maximum possible sentence imposed was inappropriate and the trial court erred in identifying and weighing aggravating and mitigating factors.

After outlining the background and history of the sentencing scheme and flood of caselaw in recent years, the justices affirmed.

The court wrote that only abuse of discretion will warrant appellate review of a sentence and outlined possible ways for that abuse to happen.

Specifically, Justice Rucker wrote the process for what the appellate review of sentences should be: trial court's entering a statement that can be reviewed on appeal for abuse of discretion, the relative weight or value of reasons found is not subject to review, and merits of a sentence can be sought elsewhere on grounds outlined in appellate rules.

"The real concern was that everything was up in the air on how you review sentences," said Indianapolis attorney Michael Limrick, who has closely been following this and related cases. "But this lays out the process and offers clarity and guidance. This is clear as can be and will be helpful to practicing attorneys."

This decision from Indiana's highest jurists comes on the heels of a ruling Thursday by the Supreme Court of the United States in Rita v. United States, which held by an 8-1 margin that a federal court of appeals may treat a sentence within the guideline range as presumptively reasonable when evaluating District Court rulings.
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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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