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Friday, September 08, 2006

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court hears sentencing law arguments

Yesterday's oral argments before the Supreme Court (see background in the ILB entry from yesterday) are the subject of a good story today by Niki Kelly in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette:

Indiana’s Supreme Court justices wrestled Thursday with the state’s new sentencing plan, which was put in place to avoid a violation of the U.S. Constitution but could lead to inconsistent prison terms for Hoosiers.

Attorneys argued before the court in the case of Alexander Anglemyer, a 20-year-old Kosciusko County man convicted of robbing and beating a pizza delivery man in May 2005.

He pleaded guilty in the case according to an agreement that called for a maximum 16-year sentence. The judge in the case gave him 10 years for the robbery and 6 yearsfor the battery to be served consecutively.

Anglemyer appealed the sentence, saying the judge did not consider mitigating evidence.

The case represents the first time the Indiana Supreme Court gets to weigh in on Indiana’s new sentencing laws since they were changed by the legislature in 2005.

Previously in Indiana, judges sentenced criminals by a guideline that provided a presumptive sentence but allowed the judge to add or subtract specific amounts of time for mitigating or aggravating circumstances.

For instance, someone convicted of robbery faced a presumptive sentence of 10 years to which 10 years could be added and four years could be subtracted.

But the U.S. Supreme Court – followed by the Indiana Supreme Court – ruled that any factors used to enhance a sentence have to be proven to a jury. That means judges can’t use additional information to add to the presumptive sentence without a separate jury proceeding.

To meet the new rules, lawmakers in 2005 passed Senate Bill 96, which removed presumptive sentences from Indiana’s system – leaving just the range of years for judges to choose from.

According to the law, a judge can impose any sentence “regardless of the presence or absence of aggravating circumstances or mitigating circumstances.”

The law also established the old presumptive sentence as a non-binding advisory guideline but gave far more discretion to the judge than in the old system.

So the question before the court Thursday was whether judges are bound to provide any sentencing statement explaining the reasons behind a sentence, as three decades of court precedent has required.

Anglemyer’s attorney, Joel Schumm, said a sentencing statement is necessary for the public to understand the system and for appellate courts to be able to review whether a sentence is inappropriate.

He noted that he didn’t believe the Indiana General Assembly meant to make such a dramatic change.

But Deputy Attorney General Ellen Meilaender argued the legislature knew exactly what it was doing, which was to fix a system that violated Hoosiers’ federal Sixth Amendment rights.

She said under the new system a judge “may” consider aggravating and mitigating circumstances but also can impose the minimum or maximum sentence without either.

Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard commended her for the courage of conviction but said it could hypothetically result in a judge giving one person with no previous criminal history the maximum sentence for a crime while giving a person with an extensive criminal record the minimum for the same crime.

“That’s not the kind of court system Hoosiers have confidence in,” he said.

Watch the oral argument here.

It would be great to post the briefs in this case -- please contact me if you can help.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on September 8, 2006 09:06 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions