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Pro se inmate wins appeal of sentence modification

August 5, 2016

An inmate’s pro se legal briefs arguing for a modification of his 70-year drug sentence impressed the Indiana Court of Appeals, who granted him another chance to make his case that he deserves leniency as a model prisoner who made the best of his time behind bars.

Woodford, 61, has been in prison for 16 years after he was convicted of Class A felony dealing in cocaine, Class D felony possession of a controlled substance, and being adjudicated a habitual offender. Elkhart Circuit Judge Terry C. Shewmaker ordered that the final 12 years of Woodford’s sentence be served on in-home detention in community corrections. Woodford appealed because Shewmaker didn’t reduce his sentence despite Woodford’s exemplary record in the Department of Correction.

In September 2015, Woodford filed a sentence modification petition that asked he be placed in community corrections. He cited his age, educational achievements, and the fact he had remained free of conduct violations during his 16 year incarceration. He argued on appeal that he was entitled to the full relief he sought and asked the court to weigh his appeal as an abuse of the trial court’s discretion, which the Court of Appeals declined to do.

"The 2015 sentence modification statute gives the court authority to 'reduce or suspend the sentence and impose a sentence that the court was authorized to impose at the time of sentencing," Judge L. Mark Bailey wrote, citing I.C. § 35-38-1-17(e)(Supp. 2015). "Based on our review of the hearing transcript and the court’s written order, it is unclear whether the trial court was operating under the 2015 sentence modification statute when it modified Woodford’s placement rather than reduce or suspend his sentence. Accordingly, we will not review the trial court’s modification order for abuse of discretion as Woodford requests, but instead remand the petition for consideration under Indiana Code § 35-38-1-17 (Supp. 2015).”

The court made this observation in a footnote: "Woodford obtained a legal assistance/paralegal diploma, earned a computer operator apprenticeship, and completed an associate degree in organizational leadership with a 3.917 GPA. Given the quality of Woodford’s written briefs in this case, we are not surprised by Woodford’s academic achievements."

The court also rejected the state’s arguments that Woodford could not seek a modification without the consent of the prosecutor. Consent was not required because Woodford’s convictions were not for violent offenses, the panel wrote.

The case is William J. Woodford v. State of Indiana, 20A03-1601-CR-171.
 

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