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Prosecutor’s lack of objection allows judge to modify sentence

May 14, 2014

In a case where a woman sought modification of her sentence more than a year after it was imposed, the Indiana Supreme Court found that the prosecutor’s conduct satisfied the “approval” requirement of Indiana Code 35-38-1-17(b).

Tammy Sue Harper was sentenced Sept. 19, 2011; she filed her motion for sentence modification Dec. 5, 2012. The trial court at a hearing acknowledged it lacked authority under the statute to modify the sentence but Tippecanoe Circuit Judge Donald Daniel indicated his desire to do so unless the prosecutor’s office objected to the modification and planned to appeal. The deputy prosecutor told the judge he would discuss the matter with the prosecutor’s office, but five weeks had passed and the prosecutor’s office never objected to the modification that would release Harper from the Department of Correction and have her serve the rest of her sentence on probation.

Daniel granted Harper’s motion, leading to this appeal. The Court of Appeals reversed, but the justices affirmed the modification.

The statute in effect at the time of Harper’s offense provided that after 365 days have elapsed, any modification by the trial court is subject to the approval of the prosecuting attorney.

The deputy prosecutor participated in the hearing on the sentence modification request and was aware the trial court wanted to grant the modification unless the prosecutor objected. But the prosecutor never objected or notified the court it planned on appealing if the judge granted the modification.  

“… we conclude that in the context of the facts of this case, the prosecutor’s conduct and communications adequately conveyed the ‘approval of the prosecuting attorney’ required in Indiana Code section 35-38-1-17(b), and that the trial court did not err in proceeding to grant the defendant’s motion for sentence modification,” Chief Justice Brent Dickson wrote for the unanimous court in State of Indiana v. Tammy Sue Harper, 79S02-1405-CR-334.  

 

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