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First impression in 'non-suspension' rule case

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The Indiana Court of Appeals determined in a case of first impression that the state's 'non-suspension rule' in Indiana Code depends on the status of the prior criminal conviction at the time of sentencing for a subsequent conviction. Because a woman's prior unrelated Class D felony conviction wasn't reduced to a Class A misdemeanor at the time she was sentenced for a later drug conviction, her 20-year sentence stands.

In Julie A. Gardiner v. State of Indiana, No. 08A02-0810-CR-874, Julie Gardner appealed her sentence for dealing in methamphetamine within 1,000 feet of a public park as a Class A felony. She argued the trial court erred when it determined Indiana Code Section 35-50-2-2(b)(1), the non-suspension rule, prohibited the court from suspending any portion of her statutory minimum 20-year sentence because she had a prior Class D felony conviction in Hamilton County that was later reduced to a Class A misdemeanor following a plea agreement and her successful completion of one year on probation.

No Indiana court had addressed the issue of whether a reduction of a prior conviction from a felony to a misdemeanor pursuant to a plea agreement affects the application of the non-suspension rule. Based on Hutcherson v. State, 411 N.E.2d 962 (Ind. 1982), only a reversal or vacation of a prior conviction could allow for Gardiner's dealing in methamphetamine sentence to be reduced under the non-suspension rule. If the Hamilton County trial court had immediately reduced her prior felony to the misdemeanor, then the trial court would have had the discretion to order a suspended sentence now, Judge Margret Robb wrote for the majority. However, since that court postponed the reduction, Gardiner still had the Class D felony conviction on her record when she was convicted and sentenced for Class A felony dealing in methamphetamine, and the trial court couldn't reduce her sentence beyond the statutory minimum.

The split court was sympathetic to the argument that the non-suspension rule under these circumstances doesn't take into account Gardiner's good behavior after she was sentenced and Judge Robb wrote the judges were frustrated by a sentencing scheme "that so illogically limits the judge's discretion." The majority invited the legislature to consider amending the statutes to provide more judicial discretion.

The majority noted this holding only applies when a defendant is initially convicted or pleads guilty and is sentenced to a Class D felony and the conviction is later modified; it does not apply when a defendant is found guilty of a Class D felony but the trial court enters a conviction for a Class A misdemeanor pursuant to I.C. 35-50-2-7(b).

Judge Elaine Brown dissented, writing she wouldn't give the non-suspension rule such a strict interpretation as to tie the trial court's hands in suspending a minimum sentence when circumstances warrant a modification.

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  1. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  2. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  3. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  4. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  5. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

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