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COA not persuaded by defendant’s claims on appeal

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The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed Bret Lee Sisson’s felony convictions of burglary, theft, receiving stolen property and unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon, finding no abuse of discretion or fundamental error during his trial.

At some point in late May or early June 2009, Sisson and Belinda Myers drove to the home of Judith and Richard Baber, where Sisson stole jewelry and guns from the home. He later exchanged the guns for marijuana and cash. Sisson and Myers were arrested June 17, 2009, and remained incarcerated. The Babers didn’t discover the burglary until after the arrests.

Sisson’s first trial resulted in a mistrial, so the state filed an amended SVF charge and habitual offender allegation without objection from Sisson a week later. The state alleged that the offenses occurred on or about June 2009 in the amended information as opposed to “on or about June 20, 2009” as was originally filed. Sisson was convicted as charged and also found guilty of the SVF charge and found to be a habitual offender.

Over Sisson’s objection, the same judge – Judge Richard Maughmer – who presided over the trial also sentenced him. Sisson sought his removal from sentencing because Maughmer had acted as the prosecuting attorney on Sisson’s rape conviction, which supported the habitual offender enhancement. He was sentenced to 53 years in the Department of Correction.

Sisson raised six issues on appeal, including that fundamental error occurred when the state refiled a previously dismissed SVF charge and habitual offender allegation after the mistrial, that the state’s failure to respond to his notice of alibi by the narrowing of the time period during which the offense was alleged to have occurred constituted a violation of the alibi statute, and that Maughmer should have granted his change of judge or recused himself for sentencing purposes only.

In Bret Lee Sisson v. State of Indiana, 09A02-1102-CR-199, the Court of Appeals noted that the SVF charge was dismissed prior to jury selection in Sisson’s first trial, so jeopardy never attached with respect to that charge and refiling was not barred. He also did not object to the dismissal of the SVF charge and habitual offender allegation, so refiling was not barred, Judge Ezra Friedlander wrote. The judges also rejected Sisson’s claim that refiling the charges was vindictive.

Sisson also failed to raise his claim regarding the alibi statute at trial.

“If Sisson believed that the lack of precision in the charging information impaired his ability to present a defense, he should have raised the issue prior to trial. His failure to do so constitutes waiver of any error in this regard,” Friedlander wrote. “Because Sisson was aware that the State intended to present evidence that Sisson
committed the crime prior to the date of his incarceration before trial, his claim that the State’s failure to narrow the time frame alleged in the charging information impaired his ability to formulate a defense is unpersuasive.”

The judges also found there was no reason for Maughmer to recuse himself prior to Sisson’s sentencing. Because Maughmer was not disqualified from presiding over Sisson’s jury trial due to an appearance of bias based on his involvement prosecuting Sisson previously for rape, there is no basis to conclude he was disqualified from pronouncing sentence for that reason, the court concluded.
 

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  1. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  2. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  3. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  4. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  5. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

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