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Justices disagree on revising man's sentence

January 1, 2008
The Indiana Supreme Court used a man's appeal of his sentence for neglect of a dependent to examine how appellate courts review sentences; the court remanded the case so the man's sentence could be reduced.

In Rudy Wayne Cardwell v. State of Indiana, No. 10S05-0811-CR-588, the justices reviewed their decision in Anglemyer v. State, 868 N.E.2d 482 (Ind. 2007), in terms of appellate review of sentencing. The court unanimously agreed that assigning relative weights to properly found facts can often present issues that don't have right or wrong answers, wrote Justice Theodore Boehm. The justices also determined that ultimately the length of the aggregate sentence and how long it's served are the issues that matter in reviewing sentences. Appellate review should identify some guiding principles for trial courts and those charged with improving the sentencing statutes, wrote Justice Boehm, but review's principal role isn't to achieve a perceived "correct" result in each case.

With that review and explanation of appellate review of sentencing, four of the justices remanded Rudy Wayne Cardwell's case to the trial court to reduce his sentence. Cardwell received an aggregate term of 34 years for convictions of two counts of neglect of a dependent for burning his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter's hands with hot water and then not immediately seeking medical attention for her burns.

The majority recommended a sentence of an aggregate term of 17 years after reviewing the evidence and the 18-month sentence his girlfriend, Star Gentry, received for her conviction of neglect of a dependent for failing to get prompt medical attention for her daughter.

"Finally, although Cardwell's sentence is not required to be compared to Gentry's, Cardwell's behavior as to the second count was substantially the same, or even less culpable than Gentry's," wrote Justice Boehm. "... But the disparity between Cardwell's aggregate 34-year sentence and Gentry's 1 1/2 years is stark."

Justice Brent Dickson dissented from the majority in revising Cardwell's sentence, noting the state didn't file identical charges against Gentry and Cardwell and that the jury convicted Gentry of a lesser offense. The jury found Cardwell guilty on both of the charges filed by the state and the trial court determined the appropriate sentence to be 17 years on each count, served consecutively.

Justice Dickson wrote the majority's decision to reduce Cardwell's sentence is greatly influenced by the disparity between his sentence and Gentry's. The justice also wrote that appellate review of a sentence - especially after a judge provides a thoughtful and detailed sentencing evaluation, which happened in this case - may serve as a disincentive to cautious and measured fashioning of sentences by trial judges.
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