Despite human trafficking victimization, woman’s 14-year sentence upheld on appeal

Despite the trial court’s erroneous failure to consider a woman’s history as a victim of human trafficking, her 14-year sentence on felony charges is not inappropriate, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled.

In Harmony Spring Clara Scott v. State of Indiana, 20A-CR-1131, Harmony Scott and her sister impersonated law enforcement to convince Tracy Lindsey to open her door. When Lindsey opened the door, she was attacked with the butt of a pistol and a pair of scissors and was robbed.

Thus, Scott was charged with three felonies including burglary, robbery and battery, though her trial in 2016 resulted in a hung jury. At the time of the attack on Lindsey, Scott was already on probation in Texas for cocaine possession.

Then in 2018, Scott illicitly withdrew thousands of dollars from a bank account belonging to her grandfather, resulting in charges on nine counts of Level 5 felony fraud on a financial institution. The following year, she was charged with domestic battery.

Meanwhile, Scott became a cooperating victim witness in a federal human trafficking prosecution in the Eastern District of Wisconsin. She reported that she had been in a relationship with her trafficker, who is the father of her child, from 2011 to 2018. She said she had been forced into prostitution, and another witness indicated Scott was being trafficked at the time of her attack on Lindsey.

In December 2019, Scott pleaded guilty to level 3 felony robbery related to the attack on Lindsey and to three counts of Level 5 felony fraud for stealing from her grandfather. The LaPorte Circuit Court imposed a 14-year sentence — the maximum under her plea agreement — without considering her history as a victim of trafficking as a mitigator.

In a Wednesday opinion, the Indiana Court of Appeals rejected Scott’s argument on appeal that the trial court abused its discretion by failing to consider her remorse and history of drug abuse as mitigating factors. However, the appellate court agreed with her argument that the trial court erred in refusing to include her victimization as a mitigator.

“Perhaps the trial court disbelieved Scott’s report of her own mental condition — an assessment we would not second-guess,” Judge Leanna Weissmann wrote Wednesday. “… However, in refusing to consider trafficking a mitigating circumstance, the court effectively found that Scott experienced no trauma whatsoever.

“To support such a finding, the trial court would have to conclude either that Scott was never trafficked at all and had hoodwinked the IPATH advocates and federal prosecutors in Wisconsin or that her victimization had no traumatic effect,” Weissmann continued, referencing the victim advocacy program known as Indiana Protection for Abused and Trafficked Humans. “Both conclusions are clearly against the logic and effect of the facts before the court.”

That error, however, was not enough to convince the Court of Appeals to remand for resentencing.

“Scott’s history as a human trafficking victim is significant but must be considered in the context of the many uncontested aggravating circumstances, including her extensive criminal history, the age of her fraud victim, and her record of lying to the court, service providers, and the Department of Corrections (sic),” Weissmann wrote. “Additionally, the trial court contemplated rejecting the plea agreement because of the sentencing cap, as its ‘findings would indicate[] a sentence at least three years longer.’ In light of these factors, the trial court likely would have reached the same fourteen-year sentence even after duly considering Scott’s history of being trafficked.”

Finally, the COA rejected Scott’s argument that her sentence was inappropriate in light of the nature of the offenses and her character.

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