Majority justices reduce drug sentence, order removal from DOC

Finding the circumstances of an Orange County case to be “exceptional,” a majority of the Indiana Supreme Court has reduced a woman’s sentence and ordered that she be removed from the Department of Correction and instead placed in community corrections. A dissenting justice would have denied transfer of the case.

Friday’s decision in Lisa Livingston v. State of Indiana, 18S-CR-623, stems from Lisa Livingston’s August 2013 arrest on drug charges. Police received a tip that Livingston was making and dealing meth from her home, and a subsequent search revealed several baggies of meth, one baggie of cocaine and other items used in the production of meth.

After being charged with five drug counts and allegations that she was a habitual substance offender, Livingston posted bond and was released to Bliss House, a substance abuse recovery home where she first took up residence in November 2013. She then began filing a series of 10 motions to continue her trial over the next four years, each of which was granted without state objection.

Livingston remained at Bliss House for one year before moving to a transitional home for two years, eventually becoming the chair of the Bliss House alumni and serving on its committee. She also started a roofing business with her nephew and used her money to open BreakAway Home, a Floyd County home for women recovering from addictions.

Then, after being denied placement in a pre-trial detention program, Livingston voluntarily joined a Floyd County Community Corrections program, where she reported twice a week and successfully passed all of her random drug screens. She eventually pleaded guilty to all of the charges against her without a plea agreement in October 2017 and asked that she be allowed to serve her sentence in community corrections.

An arresting officer testified at the sentencing hearing that he was “impressed” with Livingston’s work at BreakAway, while her community corrections supervisor said she had been “completely compliant” with the program for 381 days. The supervisor also said community corrections was willing to take on Livingston for the duration of her sentence.

The trial court, however, ordered Livingston to serve a 30-year sentence in the Department of Correction, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the sentence in October. But in a per curiam opinion granting transfer, the majority justices found Livingston’s situation to be an “exceptional case” that warranted a downward sentence revision under Indiana Appellate Rule 7(B).

“The trial court’s oral sentencing statement indicates the court thoughtfully considered the mitigating and aggravating circumstances in reaching its sentencing decision,” the court wrote. “Nevertheless, ‘[e]ven where a trial court has not abused its discretion in sentencing, the Indiana Constitution authorizes independent appellate review and revision of a trial court’s sentencing decision.’ … After independent review, we conclude the sentence imposed in this case is inappropriate in light of Livingston’s offenses and character.”

Noting that Livingston was cooperative with police, pleaded guilty without the benefit of a plea agreement, has committed no new offenses and has “dedicated her time to becoming a productive member of her community,” the majority revised Livingston’s sentence to 23 years, with all remaining time served in community corrections. Though it is “highly unusual” to place a defendant in community corrections for that amount of time, the court said the “unique circumstances” of Livingston’s case warrant such placement.

The remainder of the COA’s decision was summarily affirmed, and the case was remanded for the entry of a revised sentencing order. Justice Geoffrey Slaughter dissented without opinion, believing transfer should not be granted.

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