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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. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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