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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Ind. Decisions - At least one more from the Supreme Court today

In Engelica E. Castillo v. State of Indiana, a 20-page, 4-1 opinion, Chief Justice Dickson writes:

Prosecuted for the heinous death of Jada Justice, her two-year-old cousin, Engelica Cas-tillo1 was convicted of one count of Murder, two counts of class A felony Neglect of a Dependent, one count of class A felony Battery, and one count of class A misdemeanor False Informing. She was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for Murder plus a total of five additional years for the other crimes. On direct appeal, she challenges her sentence of life without parole for Murder, asserting two claims: (1) sentence inappropriateness and (2) prosecutorial misconduct during the sentencing phase of her trial. For reasons expressed below, we conclude that the appropriate sentence for this defendant's conviction for Murder is a term of sixty-five (65) years. * * *

It could be contended that, standing alone, the prosecutor's erroneous statement of law would present little threat of prejudice because it was only a small part of a much longer exposi-tion by the prosecutor in closing argument, was not repeatedly reiterated, and was countered by a correct statement of the law in the final instructions.11 But, when it is juxtaposed with the prose-cutor's thinly-veiled call for the jury to sentence the defendant to life without parole because of her unsavory character, we cannot ignore the substantial potential for harm to the defendant's right to be sentenced fairly in accordance with the law. Telling the jury not to balance the aggra-vators and the mitigators touched on the central task of the jury in deciding whether to impose life without parole. The prosecutor not only urged the jury not to so weigh the factors but also asked the jury to consider additional allegedly aggravating circumstances not permitted by the statute. Although the defendant's trial counsel did not contemporaneously object, the magnitude of this prosecutorial overreaching not only placed the defendant in a position of grave peril to which she should not have been subjected but also presented an undeniable and substantial po-tential for an erroneous jury sentencing recommendation. For her claim of prosecutorial miscon-duct in the penalty phase, the defendant asks that we vacate her life sentence and either "remand to impose a sentence of years, or imposition of a sentence of years by this Court." Because we have in Part 1 of this opinion concluded that the defendant's sentence for the crime of murder should be revised from life without parole to a term of sixty-five years, no further relief is warranted for the defendant's prosecutorial misconduct claim. * * *

We conclude that the appropriate sentence for the defendant's murder conviction is im-prisonment for a term of sixty-five (65) years rather than life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. This cause is remanded for entry of the revised sentence on the conviction for Murder.

Sullivan, J., concurs.
Rucker, J., concurs in result.
David, J., concurs in result with separate opinion. [which begins at p. 15]

Massa, J., dissents with separate opinion. [which begins, at p. 17] I agree with the majority’s conclusion that the evidence supported Castillo’s conviction for murder as an accomplice, but dissent because I believe there was also substantial evidence for the jury to conclude Castillo was the principal actor.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on July 31, 2012 02:14 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions