Justices rule on sentencing scheme

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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The Indiana Supreme Court has once again influenced the state's criminal sentencing scheme in a pair of rulings that are the latest in a post-Blakely world.

Justices issued decisions Thursday in Rosalio Pedraza v. State of Indiana, No. 49S04-0711-CR-516, and Michael Sweatt v. State of Indiana, No. 49S02-0805-CR-290, which when read together offer trial courts guidance about using a person's criminal history and enhancing penalties.

The court held that double enhancements are allowed using a single element of criminal history, but consecutive sentences can't be the result because that would be improper.

Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard authored both rulings in the cases originating in Marion County. Pedraza involves a car accident that killed two people in front of White River Gardens in Indianapolis following a wedding reception. A jury found him guilty on three counts of operating while intoxicated, one enhanced by his habitual substance offender status, and he received consecutive sentences totaling 52 years. Sweatt appealed his convictions for burglary and possession of a handgun by a serious violent felon, for which he received consecutive sentences totaling 70 years - enhanced because of his habitual offender status.

Key to both rulings are the Indiana General Assembly's statutory changes made since 2001, specifically those that came after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004), that altered the respective sentencing schemes nationally and eventually statewide. While presumptive terms were once used, the state legislature in 2005 eliminated that method for "advisory" sentences on each offense so that courts could impose any sentence within a statutory range.

"We conclude that under Indiana's new 'advisory' sentencing scheme, such use of a prior conviction does not amount to an impermissible double enhancement," Chief Justice Shepard wrote in Pedraza, the first part of the court's dual holding.

"While we conclude that the enhancements themselves were proper, it nonetheless constituted error to order Sweatt's sentences to run consecutively, creating a double enhancement similar to the one we disapproved in (a past case)," he wrote in Sweatt. "In a case where separate counts are enhanced based on the same prior felony conviction, ordering sentences to run consecutively has the same effect as if the enhancements both applied to the same count."

In a separate dissenting opinion in Sweatt, Justices Theodore Boehm and Brent Dickson disagreed that the statutes or precedent support the no-consecutive sentences aspect of the majority's opinion in that case.

"I would think the penal consequences of these crimes, if convictions were obtained, should not be driven in either direction by the joinder decision," Justice Boehm wrote.

With these rulings, both sets of convictions are affirmed, but the cases are remanded for the trial courts to resentence the men.

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  1. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  2. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  3. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  4. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  5. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.