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Sunday, December 09, 2012

Ind. Decisions - "Is prison time cut too often for child molesters?"

The Court of Appeals Oct. 23, 2012, 2-1 opinion in Calvin Merida v. State was the subject of a Dec. 7th story in the Indianapolis Star reported by Vic Ryckaert. (See the ILB summary here - 3rd case, from Oct. 23rd.) Some quotes from the lengthy story:

Calvin Merida committed a terrible crime, molesting a young girl repeatedly over a period of about six years.

Merida pleaded guilty, and Ripley Circuit Court Judge Carl H. Taul handed him two 30-year prison terms to be served consecutively, for 60 years behind bars.

The case, however, was not closed.

In October, the Indiana Court of Appeals cut Merida's sentence in half because it thought the sentence was too harsh. Advocates say sentence reductions for child molesters, such as Merida, happen too often in Indiana.

"We have drug offenders who are serving more time," said Anita Carpenter, chief executive officer of the Indiana Coalition Against Sexual Assault. "These are child molesters, and we're reducing sentences."

According to Carpenter, molesters get a break because they are not typical predators. They hold jobs. They don't commit other crimes. They pay taxes. Some even go to church. They coerce victims with threats, not guns.

Often, prosecutors and police go to court with one victim who has suffered repeated abuse.

A single victim, no prior crimes, no weapons. In justice system mathematics, Carpenter said those facts give appellate judges grounds to cut molesters some undeserved slack. * * *

One judge is proposing a solution. Appellate Judge Terry Crone offered a middle-ground option in his dissenting opinion in the Merida decision -- he called it "partially consecutive sentences."

Crone explained that the idea, if applied in the Merida case, would have let the judge impose two 30-year sentences while ordering just eight years of the second sentence to run consecutively for 38 total years.

"Additional criminal activity directed to the same victim should not be free of consequences," Crone wrote. "It is my hope that the legislature would amend the statute accordingly and give trial courts and appellate courts an important tool for crafting appropriate sentences in cases like this one."

Joel Schumm, a professor at Indiana University's Robert H. McKinney School of Law, said the appeals courts are known to reduce long sentences of molesters convicted of crimes against a single victim.

Sentence reductions are handed to two or three child molesters each year in Indiana, he said.

The courts, Schumm said, are trying to level out the county-to-county sentencing disparities.

"You end up with a wide disparity in child molesting cases," Schumm said. "Some people get 30 years, and some people get 150 years for basically the same horrible conduct."

Crone's idea offers a new way to impose consecutive sentences and deserves consideration, Schumm said.

"Latitude and flexibility are almost always good things for judges to have," he said. "Instead of saying it has to be 30 or it has to be 60 years, a judge should have an option to do something in between."

Not everyone's convinced judges need more flexibility.

"There's too much unguided discretion there," said Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council.

ILB: Thanks to Prof. Schumm, here is an informative 3-page chart of all Supreme Court sentence revisions since 2008. There are many more COA revisions than shown, but many if not all of them are NFP cases.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on December 9, 2012 11:09 AM
Posted to Ind. App.Ct. Decisions