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COA: Enhanced sentence not fundamental error

July 6, 2018

A man who sought a second resentencing after his 2003 murder convictions unsuccessfully argued that he was denied fundamental due process rights when he was re-sentenced to an enhanced term in 2017. 

In 1999, two bodies were found with fatal gunshot wounds to the head in an Indianapolis home. Just over a week later, two more bodies were found with similar gunshot wounds at a separate residence.

Corey Lamont Spurlock was eventually charged in and convicted of all four murders in 2003 and was sentenced to an aggregate of 75 years. Two years later, Spurlock filed a petition for post-conviction relief that the Marion Superior Court later dismissed without prejudice. Then in 2014, Spurlock again filed for post-conviction relief but was once again denied.

But in February 2017, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed and reversed in part the post-conviction court’s decision, finding Spurlock’s appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise a sentencing error. The case was remanded to the trial court, and on remand Spurlock received an enhanced 65-year sentence.

In the instant appeal, Spurlock argued the trial court erred in resentencing him because his sentence does not conform to the dictates of Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296, 124 S. Ct. 2531, 159 L. Ed. 2d 403 (2004). But the appellate court found that although Spurlock was entitled to protections under Blakely at his resentencing, he failed to make an objection using that case during his hearing.

Though the appellate court noted a claim is generally considered forfeited or waived if it is not raised in the trial court, it also noted the Indiana Supreme Court rejected that argument in Smylie v. State, 823 N.E.2d 679, 689 (Ind. 2005) because a defendant’s trial counsel could not have anticipated the holding of Blakely before it was even issued.

“Here, however, Spurlock’s resentencing hearing was held in 2017, more than thirteen years after the Blakely decision and more than twelve years after the Smylie decision,” Senior Judge John Sharpnack wrote for the court. “As the issue was settled and well-known by the time of Spurlock’s resentencing hearing, we conclude an objection was required to preserve the issue for appeal.”

Then, relying on Spurlock’s previous statements that he participated in the second drug-related robbery/murders “with full knowledge of what had occurred during the first drug-related robbery/murders,” the appellate court concluded Spurlock did not meet his burden to show the enhancement of his sentence “based upon facts implicit in his convictions” was fundamental error.

The case is Corey Lamont Spurlock v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1708-CR-1875.

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