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COA affirms remanded sentence

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The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed a man’s remanded sentence of 44 years, finding that his previous drug conviction could serve as both the basis for his consecutive sentence for a firearm conviction and to enhance his sentences for his other convictions.

In Johnnie Stokes v. State of Indiana, No. 49A04-1009-CR-578, Johnnie Stokes challenged his sentence handed down on remand for Class B felonies robbery, attempted robbery, unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon, and Class C felony criminal recklessness. Previously, the Court of Appeals had vacated five of his convictions related to a robbery of a recording studio in 2008 and ordered him to be re-sentenced. He received concurrent terms of 20 years for robbery and 10 years for attempted robbery, to be served consecutive to 20 years on the firearm conviction, and consecutive to four years for criminal recklessness.

Stokes argued that his sentence was improperly enhanced twice for the same prior felony conviction, claiming his 2001 conviction for dealing in cocaine improperly served as both the basis for his consecutive sentence for his firearm conviction and as part of his extensive criminal history that the trial court considered an aggravating circumstance in sentencing him for his other present offenses.

Chief Judge Margret Robb noted that explicit legislative direction permits the “enhancements’ that Stokes opposes. The judges didn’t agree with Stokes’ reliance on Sweatt v. State, 887 N.E.2d 81, 83 (Ind. 2008).

“Although his sentences for UPFSVF, robbery, and criminal recklessness were all enhanced based – technically, in part – on the same prior felony conviction, Stokes’s case is substantially different from Sweatt because a more appropriate characterization of his enhanced sentences would focus on the general length and severity of his criminal history, not a single conviction among the several,” wrote the chief judge. “The trial court recounted Stokes’s dealing in cocaine conviction while explaining his entire criminal history, and did not rely on it individually.”

The judges also found that Stokes’ sentence doesn’t violate the double jeopardy clause of the Indiana Constitution because the sentences for his convictions of unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon, robbery, and criminal recklessness were based on different firearms.

They also held that his consecutive sentence for the firearm conviction is not inappropriate in light of the nature of his offense and character.

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  1. Indianapolis Bar Association President John Trimble and I are on the same page, but it is a very large page with plenty of room for others to join us. As my final Res Gestae article will express in more detail in a few days, the Great Recession hastened a fundamental and permanent sea change for the global legal service profession. Every state bar is facing the same existential questions that thrust the medical profession into national healthcare reform debates. The bench, bar, and law schools must comprehensively reconsider how we define the practice of law and what it means to access justice. If the three principals of the legal service profession do not recast the vision of their roles and responsibilities soon, the marketplace will dictate those roles and responsibilities without regard for the public interests that the legal profession professes to serve.

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