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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. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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