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COA: Man's sentence could be increased

April 30, 2009

The Indiana Court of Appeals determined the recent ruling by the state's highest court regarding upward sentence revisions was applicable to a defendant's sentence. The appellate court declined to revise his sentence, however, because the man's brief was filed before the Indiana Supreme Court decided McCullough.

In Billy Atwood v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-0809-CR-844, Billy Atwood appealed his convictions of possession of paraphernalia, operating a motor vehicle while privileges are suspended, and possession of cocaine. The state cross-appealed the trial court erred in granting Atwood permission to file a belated appeal.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the permission to file the belated appeal and affirmed Atwood's convictions based on sufficient evidence. The appellate court also found the trial court didn't commit reversible error by giving an improper instruction informing the jury of defenses available to a defendant charged with possession of cocaine with 1,000 feet of a school over Atwood's objection.

Atwood also appealed his 12-year sentence for his Class B felony conviction of possession of cocaine, claiming it was inappropriate in light of the nature of the offense and his character. The state, in response to Atwood's brief that was filed before the Feb. 10, 2009, decision in McCullough v. State, 900 N.E.2d 745, 746 (Ind. 2009), argued Atwood's sentence was unduly lenient. The state cited McCullough for support of revising Atwood's sentence upward.

Under McCullough, when a defendant requests appellate review and revision of his criminal sentence, the reviewing court may affirm, reduce, or increase the sentence, and announced the Supreme Court's view of the procedural posture necessary for the state to seek an increase in a sentence, wrote Judge James Kirsch. That ruling also held the state couldn't initiate review of a sentence on appeal or cross-appeal, but was restricted to making the argument in response to a request for a sentence revision initiated by the defendant.

Using Smylie v. State, 823 N.E.2d 679, 690-691 (Ind. 2005), the appellate court determined McCullough could apply to Atwood's case even though the ruling came down after Atwood filed his appeal.

In the instant case, since Atwood appealed his sentence, it is open for the appellate court to increase it. However, because his brief was filed before McCullough was decided, the Court of Appeals was unable to say with confidence Atwood would have raised the issue regarding the appropriateness of his sentence had he known it could be increased, wrote Judge Kirsch. As such, the appellate court declined the state's invitation to reduce the sentence upward.

The Court of Appeals did affirm his 12-year sentence, which included a two-year enhancement, finding it to be appropriate given his criminal history.

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