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Justices rule on sentence modification

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A conviction of a Class D felony that is later reduced to a Class A misdemeanor doesn’t prevent a trial court from modifying a sentence below the statutory minimum, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled today in a matter of first impression. The prohibition of a sentence modification below the minimum is premised on a defendant who “has” a prior unrelated felony conviction.

In Julie Gardiner v. State of Indiana,  No. 08S02-0906-CR-277, Julie Gardiner appealed the trial court’s denial to modify her sentence for dealing in methamphetamine as a Class A felony in Carroll County. The trial court refused to sentence her below the statutory minimum of 20 years because of a prior unrelated felony. She had pleaded guilty in Hamilton County to possession with intent to manufacture, a Class D felony. That was later reduced to a Class A misdemeanor based on her successful completion of her probation terms. This was after she was sentenced in Carroll County.

Once her prior felony was reduced, the Carroll Circuit Court declined to reduce her sentence because at the time of her sentencing, the judgment in Hamilton County was still entered as a felony. The Carroll Circuit judge believed he was bound by the restrictions and limitations applicable at the time of the original sentence.

The Indiana Court of Appeals was divided in affirming the trial court.

The statute in question says “the court may suspend only that part of the sentence that is in excess of the minimum sentence” where “the crime committed was a Class A or Class B felony and the person has a prior unrelated felony conviction.”

The statute speaks in the present tense, but at the time she asked to have her sentence modified in Carroll County, Gardiner no longer had a prior unrelated felony conviction.

“The trial court declined to suspend Gardiner’s sentence below the statutory minimum of twenty years. On this narrow point we cannot say the trial court abused its discretion,” wrote Justice Robert Rucker. “To the extent however the trial court’s decision was influenced by its assumption that it had no discretion to sentence otherwise, the trial court erred. We therefore remand this cause to the trial court for further consideration consistent with this opinion.”
 

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  1. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  2. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  3. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  4. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

  5. Can I get this form on line,if not where can I obtain one. I am eligible.

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