Justices rule on sentencing scheme

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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The Indiana Supreme Court has once again influenced the state's criminal sentencing scheme in a pair of rulings that are the latest in a post-Blakely world.

Justices issued decisions Thursday in Rosalio Pedraza v. State of Indiana, No. 49S04-0711-CR-516, and Michael Sweatt v. State of Indiana, No. 49S02-0805-CR-290, which when read together offer trial courts guidance about using a person's criminal history and enhancing penalties.

The court held that double enhancements are allowed using a single element of criminal history, but consecutive sentences can't be the result because that would be improper.

Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard authored both rulings in the cases originating in Marion County. Pedraza involves a car accident that killed two people in front of White River Gardens in Indianapolis following a wedding reception. A jury found him guilty on three counts of operating while intoxicated, one enhanced by his habitual substance offender status, and he received consecutive sentences totaling 52 years. Sweatt appealed his convictions for burglary and possession of a handgun by a serious violent felon, for which he received consecutive sentences totaling 70 years - enhanced because of his habitual offender status.

Key to both rulings are the Indiana General Assembly's statutory changes made since 2001, specifically those that came after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004), that altered the respective sentencing schemes nationally and eventually statewide. While presumptive terms were once used, the state legislature in 2005 eliminated that method for "advisory" sentences on each offense so that courts could impose any sentence within a statutory range.

"We conclude that under Indiana's new 'advisory' sentencing scheme, such use of a prior conviction does not amount to an impermissible double enhancement," Chief Justice Shepard wrote in Pedraza, the first part of the court's dual holding.

"While we conclude that the enhancements themselves were proper, it nonetheless constituted error to order Sweatt's sentences to run consecutively, creating a double enhancement similar to the one we disapproved in (a past case)," he wrote in Sweatt. "In a case where separate counts are enhanced based on the same prior felony conviction, ordering sentences to run consecutively has the same effect as if the enhancements both applied to the same count."

In a separate dissenting opinion in Sweatt, Justices Theodore Boehm and Brent Dickson disagreed that the statutes or precedent support the no-consecutive sentences aspect of the majority's opinion in that case.

"I would think the penal consequences of these crimes, if convictions were obtained, should not be driven in either direction by the joinder decision," Justice Boehm wrote.

With these rulings, both sets of convictions are affirmed, but the cases are remanded for the trial courts to resentence the men.

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  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.