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Aggravators can’t include nonadjudicated juvenile actions, COA says

March 21, 2019

In granting a petition for rehearing Thursday, the Indiana Court of Appeals explicitly came down against using juveniles' nonadjudicated contacts with the criminal justice system as an aggravating factor in future sentencing. However, in light of other evidence of the petitioner’s criminal history, the court reaffirmed its prior decision to uphold a man’s sentence.

After Shawn Morrell received a five-year sentence for committing domestic battery against his girlfriend, he appealed and argued the Tippecanoe Circuit Court improperly considered parts of his juvenile criminal history during sentencing. Specifically, he noted some of his contacts with the juvenile system did not result in adjudication. 

But the Tippecanoe Circuit Court’s oral sentencing statement listed as aggravating factors Morrell’s three juvenile adjudications, two additional juvenile contacts, three felony convictions and two misdemeanor convictions. It also noted Morell had seven cases with an unknown disposition, at least one failure to appear and two pending petitions to revoke probation.

Morrell’s sentencing appeal was initially rejected by the Indiana Court of Appeals, but the appellate panel granted a petition for rehearing on Thursday for the purpose of clarifying the issue of “use of nonadjudicated juvenile contacts as an aggravating circumstance.” Citing the Indiana Supreme Court’s ruling in Day v. State, 560 N.E.2d 641, 643 (Ind. 1990), the panel noted the trial court’s reliance on the available juvenile record in Day was error when it did not take into consideration that adjudication elevates the juvenile’s criminal history from allegation to fact.

“When a juvenile proceeding ends without a disposition, the mere fact that a petition was filed alleging delinquency does not suffice as proof of a criminal history,” then-Chief Justice Randall Shepard wrote in Day. “Indeed, even when a juvenile court has made a determination of delinquency, only the acts committed by the juvenile may constitute a criminal history to support enhancement of a sentence. An adjudication of delinquency is not a fact that can be used by a sentencing court to enhance a criminal sentence.”

Thus, the COA, relying on Day, determined the trial court abused its discretion when it relied on Morrell’s nonadjudications as aggravators. Despite that abuse, however, the panel reaffirmed Morrell’s sentence based on the ample evidence provided within the remainder of Morell’s criminal history.

Thus, the COA reaffirmed its prior holding, but granted rehearing solely to address the issue of nonadjudications in Shawn P. Morrell v. State of Indiana, 18A-CR-1282.

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