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COA finds trial court’s error in sentencing was harmless

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A trial court’s error in considering an arrest record as evidence of criminal history was harmless, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled, because the aggravators and mitigators would have led the lower court to impose the same sentence.

Dennis Vermillion was convicted of two counts of Class C felony sexual misconduct with a minor after an incident in 2009 with his friend’s 14-year-old daughter, S.H. The court sentenced Vermillion to eight years – five years executed and three years suspended to probation – on each count, to run consecutively, for a total sentence of 16 years.

In Dennis Vermillion v. State of Indiana, 13A01-1201-CR-17, Vermillion appealed and the COA affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded for resentencing.

On his appeal, Vermillion raised numerous arguments regarding his sentence. He claimed the trial court erred in ordering consecutive rather than concurrent sentences. Also, he argued his total 16-year sentence exceeds the statutory cap for consecutive sentences and his sentence is inappropriate.

The COA found the trial court did not abuse its discretion in ordering consecutive sentences based on the facts of this case where two separate and distinct crimes were committed against S.H.

However, the COA found that the trial court did abuse its discretion by imposing a sentence greater than what is allowed by the statute. The court pointed out that because it is undisputed that Vermillion’s convictions are violent crimes and that his crimes constitute a single episode of criminal conduct, his sentence cannot exceed the advisory 10-year sentence for a Class B felony.

In regards to the appropriateness of his sentence, Vermillion argues that the trial court improperly considered past charged offenses that were dismissed as part of a plea agreement as well as uncharged misconduct as aggravators.

Again, the COA found the trial court erred in considering Vermillion’s arrest record as evidence of his criminal history. The Indiana Supreme Court has held that a record of arrest, without more, may not be properly considered as evidence of criminal history.

Yet, the COA concluded the error was harmless since the evidence may be considered as it relates to Vermillion’s character. Further, it believes the lower court would have imposed the same sentence in light of the remaining aggravators and mitigators.


 

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