COA slashes 18-year DOC sentence, orders treatment for drug offender

A man sentenced to 18 years after being convicted in a drug sting operation will only serve four of those years in prison, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled, reversing a sentencing order that did not allow for probation or substance abuse treatment.

In Christopher M. Hubbert v. State of Indiana, 20A-CR-1617, appellant-defendant Christopher Hubbert was charged in January 2020 with three felonies after he participated in three controlled methamphetamine buys, selling drugs to a confidential informant working with the Columbus Police Department. Hubbert agreed to plead guilty to Level 2 felony dealing in meth in exchange for the dismissal of the two other charges against him in the instant case as well as charges filed in a separate cause. Sentencing was left to the Bartholomew Superior Court.

At his sentencing hearing, Hubbert testified that he got into dealing to support his “habit” and that he was visually impaired. He requested that a portion of sentence by assigned to community corrections or another addiction treatment program.

In a presentence investigation report, the local probation department likewise recommended Hubbert be assigned to community corrections and substance abuse treatment. The prosecutor, however, said Hubbert’s visual impairment should not be a “get out of jail free card” and urged the trial court to impose a fully executed sentence.

Agreeing with the prosecutor, the trial judge sentenced Hubbert to 18 years executed in the Indiana Department of Correction. The court recognized Hubbert’s visual impairment as a “significant” mitigator but identified multiple aggravators, including his prior criminal history and his previous unsuccessful stints on probation and in treatment.

The Indiana Court of Appeals, however, agreed with Hubbert that at least part of his sentence should be served on community corrections. The unanimous appellate panel reversed and ordered Hubbert to serve only four years of his 18-year sentence in the Department of Correction.

“Regarding the nature of the offense, we are obviously troubled Hubbert conducted a drug deal in a public library, although we note the amount of methamphetamine sold was only a small amount over what was needed to make this a Level 2 felony,” Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote in a Friday opinion. “But as to Hubbert’s character, we believe the record supports his contention that his addiction is the underlying source of his criminal behavior.

“… He is considered at a low risk to reoffend according to the Indiana Risk Assessment System. And while the trial court is correct that Hubbert previously had one opportunity to receive substance-abuse treatment while on probation and failed, we do not believe one such failure should preclude future opportunities to reform,” Vaidik continued. “… Finally, Hubbert is visually impaired, which the trial court found to be a ‘significant’ mitigator. And the record indicates his impairment substantially affects his opportunities while incarcerated.

“… For these reasons, Hubbert has convinced us that an eighteen-year executed sentence is inappropriate,” the judge concluded. “Accordingly, we reverse and remand to the trial court to impose a sentence of eighteen years, with four years executed in the DOC. The remaining years are to be served on probation with substance-abuse counseling and placement in community corrections.”

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