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Man entitled to new probation revocation hearing

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has ordered a new probation revocation hearing for a Wells County man after finding the reasons by the special judge as to why the man should serve his entire previously suspended sentence were “problematic.”

Jesse Puckett was 18 years old when he had sex with a 12-year-old girl, whom he thought was older based on how she looked and what the girl told him. Puckett pleaded guilty to one count of Class C felony child molesting in exchange for the dismissal of two Class B felony molesting charges. He received a sentence of four years, suspended to probation. The state later alleged Puckett violated probation for several reasons, including having contact with a person under the age of 18 and failing to register as a sex offender.

Puckett pleaded guilty to one count of Class D felony failure to register, and most of that sentence was suspended with the remaining six months executed. At a hearing on the state’s third amended petition to revoke probation, a special judge had to be appointed because the prosecutor at the time of Puckett’s original sentencing was now the trial judge. Puckett indicated he would admit to violating his probation by committing the Class D felony failure to register and the state would dismiss and not present any evidence on any of the other probation violation allegations.

Special Judge James Heimann made several comments before imposing the sentence on Puckett, including references to Puckett having sex with the 12-year-old, even though his guilty plea was only on a charge of fondling with intent to arouse. Heimann also commented about how he often checks the sex offender registry for information around his home and was surprised that Puckett’s original sentence was completely suspended.

In Jesse Puckett v. State of Indiana, No. 90A02-1104-CR-369, the Court of Appeals found Heimann’s statements for entirely revoking Puckett’s probation and making him serve the four years that were suspended to be problematic. Heimann continually repeated displeasure with Puckett’s original plea agreement. A trial court’s belief that a sentence imposed under a plea agreement was “too lenient” isn’t a proper basis to use for determining the length of a sentence to be imposed for a probation revocation, wrote Judge Michael Barnes. It’s also improper when revoking probation for a trial court to find that the defendant actually committed a more serious crime than the one or ones of which he or she was originally convicted.

The judges didn’t hold that any single “error” in a probation revocation statement will warrant reversal, but taken together, the trial court’s statement of reasons regarding Puckett’s revocation leads the appellate court to find Heimann abused his discretion by considering improper factors before imposing the sentence. They ordered another hearing on the revocation of probation. Barnes noted that the COA declined to require Heimann to recuse himself because there hasn’t been a motion for a change of judge.   
 

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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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