ILNews

Sole justice disagrees with sentencing transfer

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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The Indiana Supreme Court has cut an Indianapolis child molester's prison sentence in half from 120 to 60 years, reanalyzing the penalty he received for being convicted of multiple counts of victimizing his stepdaughter.

But one of the state's top jurists objected to the court accepting this sentencing case, emphasizing that reviewing and revising this penalty goes against the high court's role as one of "last resort" and could lead to trial judges being less cautious and measured in sentencing.

A 4-1 ruling came down late Thursday in Michael D. Smith v. State of Indiana, No. 49S05-0806-CR-365. The case involves four merged counts of child molesting for which Smith was originally sentenced to 120 years following a jury trial. He'd been convicted of molesting his stepdaughter four times when she was between the ages of 10 and 14, and the trial court in 2005 sentenced him to serve consecutive sentences of 30 years for each count. The Court of Appeals affirmed that decision in an unpublished memorandum in August 2007.

But in granting transfer and reviewing the sentencing, a majority of justices determined the sentence should be reduced based on the character of the offender and nature of the offenses. Justices relied on Smith's extensive criminal history of two sex-based offenses that echoed the current offenses, as well as "multiple, serious aggravating circumstances" that include the long period of time he molested the girl and the "heinous violation of trust" that occurred. Justices directed one of the counts be imposed consecutive to the other, with the remaining two counts be served concurrently. It left to the trial court to decide which sentences be imposed consecutively and concurrently, and that can be done without a hearing.

In making its decision, the court relied on post-2005 caselaw stemming from Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004), and subsequent state law changes in Indiana's sentencing scheme, specifically moving to "advisory" rather than "presumptive" sentences.

Justice Brent Dickson dissented in a separate opinion, writing that he isn't convinced that this case isn't sufficiently "rare or exceptional" to warrant appellate intrusion into the trial court's sentencing decision. He noted the court's authority to review and revise criminal sentences is a permissive option, and the state constitution doesn't compel that review.

"Any greater frequency in appellate revision of criminal sentences may induce and foster reliance upon such review for ultimate sentencing evaluations and thus serve as a disincentive to the cautious and measured fashioning of sentences by trial judges," he wrote. "Restrained sentencing decisions are best made by a trial judge with the gravity that results from knowing that the judge's decisions are essentially final."
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  3. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  4. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  5. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

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