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Supreme Court analyzes appellate review rule on sentences

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Addressing an issue that’s divided the state’s intermediate appeals judges, the Indiana Supreme Court has held that review under Appellate Rule 7 may include consideration of a person’s total penal consequences within a trial court sentence.

Justices ruled today on Desmond Davidson v. State of Indiana, No. 49S02-1001-CR-41, which involves a defendant convicted of auto theft and resisting law enforcement. Desmond Davidson received an aggregate sentence of 545 days, and Marion Superior Judge James Osborn ordered that 180 days be executed and 365 days be suspended to probation. Davidson appealed and said the total advisory sentence was inappropriate.

Although the Court of Appeals affirmed last year, the panel disagreed about whether it should review “his partially-suspended advisory sentence the same as if it were a fully-executed advisory sentence.” The judges relied on caselaw from the past several years discussing the issue and the majority favored consideration of the fact that a portion of the sentence was suspended. Justices granted transfer to consider the issue.

The court noted that Indiana’s Constitution expressively provides for appellate power to “review and revise the sentence imposed,” and that in line with that provision Indiana Appellate Rule 7 authorizes a criminal defendant to appeal a sentence and allows that the reviewing court “may revise a sentence authorized by statute if, after due consideration of the trial court’s decision, the Court finds that the sentence is inappropriate in light of the nature of the offense and the character of the offender.” Trial judges have many options to consider in imposing a sentence, the justices found.

The Court of Appeals was correct in this case, and the justices disapprove of the contrary views expressed in Eaton v. State, 825 N.E. 2d 1287, 1291 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005); Pagan v. State, 809 N.E. 2d 915, 926, n.9 (Ind. Ct. App. 2004); and Cox v. State, 792 N.E. 2d 898, 904 n.6 (Ind. Ct. App. 2003).

“We decline to narrowly interpret the word ‘sentence’ in Appellate Rule 7 to constrict appellate courts to consider only the appropriateness of the aggregate length of the sentence without considering also whether a portion of the sentence is ordered suspended or otherwise crafted using any of the variety of sentencing tools available to the trial judge,” Justice Brent Dickson wrote. “This does not preclude a reviewing court from determining a sentence to be inappropriate due to its overall sentence length despite the suspension of a substantial portion thereof. A defendant on probation is subject to the revocation of probation and may be required to serve up to the full original sentence.”
 

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  1. I expressed my thought in the title, long as it was. I am shocked that there is ever immunity from accountability for ANY Government agency. That appears to violate every principle in the US Constitution, which exists to limit Government power and to ensure Government accountability. I don't know how many cases of legitimate child abuse exist, but in the few cases in which I knew the people involved, in every example an anonymous caller used DCS as their personal weapon to strike at innocent people over trivial disagreements that had no connection with any facts. Given that the system is vulnerable to abuse, and given the extreme harm any action by DCS causes to families, I would assume any degree of failure to comply with the smallest infraction of personal rights would result in mandatory review. Even one day of parent-child separation in the absence of reasonable cause for a felony arrest should result in severe penalties to those involved in the action. It appears to me, that like all bureaucracies, DCS is prone to interpret every case as legitimate. This is not an accusation against DCS. It is a statement about the nature of bureaucracies, and the need for ADDED scrutiny of all bureaucratic actions. Frankly, I question the constitutionality of bureaucracies in general, because their power is delegated, and therefore unaccountable. No Government action can be unaccountable if we want to avoid its eventual degeneration into irrelevance and lawlessness, and the law of the jungle. Our Constitution is the source of all Government power, and it is the contract that legitimizes all Government power. To the extent that its various protections against intrusion are set aside, so is the power afforded by that contract. Eventually overstepping the limits of power eliminates that power, as a law of nature. Even total tyranny eventually crumbles to nothing.

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