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Justices rule on first impression issue involving sentence modification

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The Indiana Supreme Court handed down two opinions Thursday afternoon in which the justices found the trial judges involved erred in modifying the defendants’ sentences from Class D felonies to Class A misdemeanors.

The justices addressed the first impression issue in State of Indiana v. Jeffrey Brunner, No. 57S04-1010-CR-603; and the companion opinion, State of Indiana v. Charles Boyle, No. 49S05-1105-PC-305. In both cases, Jeffrey Brunner and Charles Boyle petitioned for modifications of their Class D felony offenses – to which they pleaded guilty - to be modified to Class A misdemeanors several years after the convictions and sentences were entered. The trial judges granted the men’s motions, and the state appealed.

In Brunner, the justices first had to decide whether the state had the statutory right to appeal the modification of his conviction, which they concluded it did. The legislature didn’t provide the trial court the statutory authority to modify Brunner’s conviction, and because this is a pure question of law that doesn’t require evidence outside the record, the state has the limited ability to appeal a trial court’s modification of a conviction under the circumstances of this case, wrote Justice Steven David.

Then, the justices analyzed Indiana Code Section 35-50-2-7, which was applicable at the time of Brunner’s conviction, and I.C. Section 35-38-1-1.5, which became applicable later in 2003, to determine the legislative intent in granting authority to the trial courts to reduce Class D felonies to Class A misdemeanors. The high court concluded this is limited to the moment the trial court first entered its judgment of conviction and before the trial court announces its sentence.

The justices cited their decision in Brunner to hold that the trial court erred in modifying Charles Boyle’s sentence. Justice David wrote in Boyle that under I.C. Section 35-38-1-1.5, the trial court had to enter the misdemeanor conviction within three years of the entry of the judgment, all the parties must agree to the conditions, and the defendant must meet those agreed upon conditions. There’s no record that the trial court originally considered modifying Boyle’s sentence nor did the state consent to a misdemeanor sentence, wrote the justice. Also, the trial court didn’t modify his sentence within three years.

“Although it may be equitable and desirable for the legislature to give a trial court discretion in modifying a conviction years later for good behavior, we recognize at this time the legislature has not given any such authority. It may be appropriate for a trial court judge to be able to weigh mitigating and aggravating factors such as the hardship on the defendant’s family in making a conviction-modification decision,” wrote Justice David in Brunner.

“One of the purposes of the discussion regarding sentencing reform is to keep those offenders in prison that need to be in prison and to give more favor to those offenders who deserve an earlier opportunity to be productive citizens. The trial court believed it was assisting a defendant who had demonstrated he was worthy of an opportunity to have his conviction modified. However, at this time, the legislature has not enacted any such authority for the trial court.”

In both cases, the justices ordered the trial courts to reinstate the original judgment of conviction.

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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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