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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Ind. Courts - "Charitable Contributions: When Sentence Conditions Raise Ethical Concerns"

That is the heading to an article dated Oct. 31, 2011 in Indiana Court Times, authored by Adrienne Meiring, who has served Counsel for the Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission and the Indiana Judicial Qualifications Commission since 2009. Some quotes:

Some combinations inherently go together, like chocolate and peanut butter. Others initially sound like a good idea (e.g. chili mixed with jalapeno peppers) but later have regrettable after effects. Requiring a defendant to make a charitable contribution as a sentencing condition is a combination that falls into the latter category.

Proponents of this sentencing practice argue that requiring a defendant to make a charitable contribution more effectively forces the defendant to accept responsibility for his or her actions. One minority view is found in State v. Peiger, 692 A.2d 1273 (Conn. 1997), in which the Connecticut Supreme Court affirmed a defendant’s sentence which included a condition that he make a $2,500 contribution to the hit-and-run victim’s treating hospital. * * *

Former Indiana Court of Appeals Chief Judge Wesley Ratliff, however, viewed the issue differently. In Ratliff v. State, 596 N.E.2d 241, 243 (Ind. Ct. App. 1992), the Indiana Court of Appeals determined a trial court judge did not err when he ordered two defendants to make contributions to a charity of their choice as they had agreed to do in their plea agreements. Chief Judge Ratliff (no relation to the defendant) reluctantly concurred, reasoning the defendants could not propose the charitable alternative in their plea agreements and then later claim error. Id. at 244. Nonetheless, he warned that, “But for the invited error rule, I would not concur, because I see a great potential for mischief in permitting a criminal defendant in effect to buy his way out of trouble by making a charitable contribution….Therefore, I believe plea agreements proposing a charitable contribution in lieu of penalty should not be accepted.” Id.

Judicial ethics committees and judicial conduct organizations that have weighed in on the matter have echoed Chief Judge Ratliff’s concerns and urged judges to discontinue such sentencing practices.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on November 27, 2011 01:21 PM
Posted to Indiana Courts