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COA reverses sentence based on a ‘suspect enhancement’

January 15, 2015

Finding that a judge was clearly influenced by a jury’s not-guilty decision on another drug charge when he sentenced a defendant for cocaine possession, the Indiana Court of Appeals ordered the man’s sentence reduced.

Corey Phelps was charged with Class A felony dealing in cocaine and Class C felony possession of cocaine. The jury only found him guilty of the Class C felony. At sentencing, Marion Superior Judge Daniel Pflum stated that if Phelps had had a bench trial, he would have found the defendant guilty of dealing in cocaine, as Phelps was “clearly” guilty. The judge then sentenced Phelps to eight years, the maximum sentence for possession of cocaine.

“Here, the State does not dispute that the trial court expressed disagreement with the jury verdict. Instead, the State argues the trial court appropriately enhanced Phelps’s sentence by relying on other proper aggravating circumstances. We believe, however, that the presence of aggravating circumstances justifying an enhanced sentence does not wash away the stain left by a trial court’s blatant disagreement with the jury verdict at sentencing,” Judge Margret Robb wrote in Corey Phelps v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1401-CR-30.

The appearance of fairness and the need to promote public confidence in the integrity of the judicial system are considerations carrying as much weight as any other, Robb continued, noting the sentence in this case is suspect.

Instead of ordering Phelps to be sentenced to the advisory sentence of four years, the COA remanded for the trial court to sentence him to six years and to correct the order of judgment of conviction since it indicates Phelps was convicted of a Class A felony.
 

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