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Judges disagree as how to review sentence

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A panel of Indiana Court of Appeals judges affirmed today that a defendant's sentence following a guilty plea wasn't inappropriate, but the judges didn't agree as to how to reach that conclusion.

In T. L. Brandon Hollar v. State of Indiana, No. 43A05-0906-CR-319, Judges L. Mark Bailey and Cale Bradford relied on Jenkins v. State, 909 N.E.2d 1080 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009), to determine T. L. Brandon Hollar's sentence of three years in prison with two years suspended wasn't inappropriate. Hollar pro se pleaded guilty to Class D felony nonsupport of a dependent child and argued on appeal that he received the maximum sentence despite the two years being suspended to probation. He wanted the Court of Appeals to revise it through Indiana Appellate Rule 7(B).

The split Jenkins court concluded that in analyzing whether a sentence is inappropriate under Rule 7(B), anything less than a fully executed sentence of the maximum length doesn't constitute a maximum sentence. It also ruled that it's not realistic to consider a year of probation, a year in community corrections, and a year in prison as equivalent.

The majority looked at whether Hollar's sentence was composed of executed imprisonment time, in whole or in part, or included any alternatives to incarceration while performing the 7(B) analysis. It determined based on the nature of the offense and Hollar's character, he hadn't persuaded the appellate court that his sentence was inappropriate.

Judge Nancy Vaidik agreed with the result of the majority's ruling, but believed the court should use a different approach in evaluating sentences. She referred to Mask v. State, 829 N.E.2d 932, 935-36 (Ind. 2005).

"A probationary term poses the very 'real possibility' that a defendant will have to serve his suspended sentence," she wrote. "Whether or not this is within the control of the defendant, I find it unrealistic to ignore the suspended portions of a sentence and review only those portions ordered executed."

Her main concern was if the appellate court declines to review the totality of a potential sentence on direct appeal, the defendant would have no other opportunity to challenge the appropriateness of the sentence should probation be revoked. She declined to follow Jenkins and instead would review the entirety of Hollar's suspended and executed sentences for inappropriateness. She also concluded based on his character and the circumstances of the case, his sentence is appropriate.

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