ILNews

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. 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.

  2. 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

  3. 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!!!

  4. 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.

  5. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

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