Reversal: Trial court can consider merits of sentence modification motion

The Indiana Court of Appeals has reversed for a convicted man seeking to modify his sentence, finding that the Elkhart Superior Court erred when it determined that it lacked the statutory authority to consider the merits of his motion.

In July 2014, Randolf Sargent was sentenced to 30 years in the Indiana Department of Correction with five years suspended for conviction of Class A felony attempted dealing in methamphetamine.

Sargent, who unsuccessfully appealed his sentence as inappropriate, later moved to participate in the Purposeful Incarceration Program. The trial court denied that motion as well. In the following years, the trial court also denied Sargent’s two separate motions for modification of sentence.

On his final motion for modification, the trial court issued its order determining that it lacked the authority to consider the merits of the motion for sentence modification. It further concluded that Sargent’s motion to participate in the PIP “should count as a motion to modify” pursuant to Indiana Code Section 35-38- 1-17, “and that such motion, coupled with his 2018 motion for sentence modification, meant that he had exhausted his allowable motions for modification prior to the filing of his most recent motion.”

But the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that Sargent’s motion to participate in the PIP did not constitute a motion for sentence modification pursuant to the statute. 

“In his 2015 pro se motion to participate in the PIP, Sargent was not requesting a reduction or suspension of his sentence. He was essentially requesting that the trial court amend its original sentencing order and/or abstract of judgment and recommend him for participation in programming offered by the DOC that he believed he would benefit from during his incarceration,” Judge Terry Crone wrote for the appellate court.

“Another panel of this Court, albeit under different factual circumstances, has rejected the argument that such a request constitutes a request for sentence modification. Indeed, it is clear that while participation in the PIP may lead to a subsequent sentence modification, the request for a participation recommendation is not, in itself, a request for modification,” the panel continued.

Thus, because Sargent has only made one prior motion for sentence modification, the appellate panel concluded that the trial court erred when it determined that it lacked the statutory authority to consider the merits of Sargent’s current motion.

The appellate court therefore reversed and remanded for proceedings consistent with its opinion in Randolf S. Sargent v. State of Indiana, 20A-CR-01142. 

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