The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed Bret Lee Sisson’s felony convictions of burglary, theft, receiving stolen property and unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon, finding no abuse of discretion or fundamental error during his trial.
At some point in late May or early June 2009, Sisson and Belinda Myers drove to the home of Judith and Richard Baber, where Sisson stole jewelry and guns from the home. He later exchanged the guns for marijuana and cash. Sisson and Myers were arrested June 17, 2009, and remained incarcerated. The Babers didn’t discover the burglary until after the arrests.
Sisson’s first trial resulted in a mistrial, so the state filed an amended SVF charge and habitual offender allegation without objection from Sisson a week later. The state alleged that the offenses occurred on or about June 2009 in the amended information as opposed to “on or about June 20, 2009” as was originally filed. Sisson was convicted as charged and also found guilty of the SVF charge and found to be a habitual offender.
Over Sisson’s objection, the same judge – Judge Richard Maughmer – who presided over the trial also sentenced him. Sisson sought his removal from sentencing because Maughmer had acted as the prosecuting attorney on Sisson’s rape conviction, which supported the habitual offender enhancement. He was sentenced to 53 years in the Department of Correction.
Sisson raised six issues on appeal, including that fundamental error occurred when the state refiled a previously dismissed SVF charge and habitual offender allegation after the mistrial, that the state’s failure to respond to his notice of alibi by the narrowing of the time period during which the offense was alleged to have occurred constituted a violation of the alibi statute, and that Maughmer should have granted his change of judge or recused himself for sentencing purposes only.
In Bret Lee Sisson v. State of Indiana, 09A02-1102-CR-199, the Court of Appeals noted that the SVF charge was dismissed prior to jury selection in Sisson’s first trial, so jeopardy never attached with respect to that charge and refiling was not barred. He also did not object to the dismissal of the SVF charge and habitual offender allegation, so refiling was not barred, Judge Ezra Friedlander wrote. The judges also rejected Sisson’s claim that refiling the charges was vindictive.
Sisson also failed to raise his claim regarding the alibi statute at trial.
“If Sisson believed that the lack of precision in the charging information impaired his ability to present a defense, he should have raised the issue prior to trial. His failure to do so constitutes waiver of any error in this regard,” Friedlander wrote. “Because Sisson was aware that the State intended to present evidence that Sisson
committed the crime prior to the date of his incarceration before trial, his claim that the State’s failure to narrow the time frame alleged in the charging information impaired his ability to formulate a defense is unpersuasive.”
The judges also found there was no reason for Maughmer to recuse himself prior to Sisson’s sentencing. Because Maughmer was not disqualified from presiding over Sisson’s jury trial due to an appearance of bias based on his involvement prosecuting Sisson previously for rape, there is no basis to conclude he was disqualified from pronouncing sentence for that reason, the court concluded.