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High court divided on revising molester's sentence

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Two justices dissented from their colleague’s decision to reduce a child molester’s sentence more than 50 years, believing the opinion “blurs the guidance” given in a 2008 opinion regarding sentence reviews.

Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard, Justice Frank Sullivan, and Justice Robert Rucker, who authored the majority opinion in Donald A. Pierce v. State of Indiana, No. 13S04-1101-CR-7, held Donald Pierce’s 134-year sentence should be reduced to 80 years based on the nature of the offense and Pierce’s character. Pierce was convicted of three counts of Class A felony child molesting and one Class C felony count of child molesting involving the molestation of his girlfriend’s daughter while the girlfriend was at work.

The trial court sentenced him to 124 years, suspended 10 years to probation, but then enhanced the sentence by 10 years for the repeat sexual offender adjudication. Pierce had been convicted in 1999 of Class C felony child molesting. The Indiana Court of Appeals remanded with instructions to attach the additional fixed 10-year term to one of his Class A felony sentences for an aggregate term of 134 years.

The high court took Pierce’s case to address his sentence appropriateness claim. The majority found Pierce was in a position of trust, and repeatedly molested the girl for more than a year. However, the three Class A felony counts were identical and involved the same child, wrote Justice Rucker. Pierce’s sentence should be enhanced, but not on each of the Class A felonies or by imposing four consecutive sentences.

The majority also noted that Pierce had no criminal record beyond the prior child molesting conviction. They ordered one of his Class A felony counts be enhanced to 40 years, the other two counts should receive the advisory 30-year sentence, and that he receive the four-year advisory sentence on the Class C felony count. The enhanced sentence will be served concurrently with the others for a total of 70 years, with the 10-year enhancement for the repeat sexual offender adjudication attached to the enhanced Class A felony count for a total of 80 years. They remanded for the trial court to determine if and what extent any portion of the sentence should be suspended to probation.

Justices Steven David and Brent Dickson dissented, deciding that the original sentence should stand, minus the concurrent 10-year enhancement mistakenly given by the trial judge. They were concerned that the majority opinion usurps the high court’s limited role and sets aside the guidance it gave in Cardwell v. State, 859 N.E.2d 1219 (2008), which held that “appellate review should focus on the forest — the aggregate sentence — rather than the trees — consecutive or concurrent, number of counts, or length of the sentence on any individual count.”

“Here the trial court judge did exactly what he was supposed to do — exercise discretion within the required statutory and case law framework. I fear this opinion blurs the guidance in Cardwell and is more akin to a second guessing by this Court,” wrote Justice David. “This is a case where the discretion and judgment of the trial court should not be overturned.”

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  1. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  2. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  3. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

  4. "...not those committed in the heat of an argument." If I ever see a man physically abusing a woman or a child and I'm close enough to intercede I will not ask him why he is abusing her/him. I will give him a split second to cease his attack and put his hands in the air while I call the police. If he continues, I will still call the police but to report, "Man down with a gunshot wound,"instead.

  5. And so the therapeutic state is weaonized. How soon until those with ideologies opposing the elite are disarmed in the name of mental health? If it can start anywhere it can start in the hoosiers' slavishly politically correct capital city.

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