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Monday, August 15, 2016

Ind. Decisions - 7th Circuit decides one Indiana case today, a reversal

In Walker Whatley v. Dushan Zatecky (SD Ind., Magnus-Stinson), a 45-page opinion reversing the district court, Judge Rovner writes:

Walker Whatley was convicted under a now‐repealed Indiana law of possessing a little more than three grams of cocaine within 1000 feet of a “youth program center.” On direct appeal and in federal habeas corpus proceedings, Whatley challenged the Indiana law on the ground that the statutory definition of “youth program center” was unconstitutionally vague. Although the Indiana Court of Appeals vacated his conviction on other grounds, the Indiana Supreme Court reinstated it. The district court declined to address his habeas claim on the merits after determining that he had defaulted the claim. We conclude that Whatley did not procedurally default his claim, and that his petition should be granted. * * *

In sum, a triad of factors convince us that the state courts were not simply wrong but unreasonable in applying federal law on vagueness in Whatley’s case: (1) the use of the word “regular” in the definition of “youth program center” provides no objective standard, and thereby fails to place persons of ordinary intelligence on notice of the conduct proscribed and allows for arbitrary enforcement; (2) defendants are strictly liable for violating the terms of this nebulous sentencing enhancement, exacerbating the effect of the subjectivity; and (3) the consequences of violating this indeterminate strict liability provision are extreme: an increase in the sentencing range from 2‐to‐8 years to 20‐to‐50 years’ imprisonment. The Indiana courts failed to narrow the statute by adding an intent element, by limiting application to the core cases of facilities such as YMCAs or Boys and Girls Clubs, or by providing any objective standard to the meaning of “regular.” There was no “reasonable basis for the state court to deny relief.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 98. As applied to Whatley, the statute delegated to the police, the prosecutor and the jury the task of determining what conduct was proscribed. No one in Whatley’s position could have known that the Robinson Community Church would fall within the definition simply because it hosted a handful of children’s events each week and otherwise bore no indicia of the children’s activities within. We therefore reverse and remand the judgment, with instructions to grant the writ of habeas corpus ordering that, within sixty days, Whatley either be released or that he be re‐sentenced under the Class C felony statute. If he is re‐sentenced, he must, of course, be given credit for the time he served under the Class A felony conviction.

REVERSED AND REMANDED.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on August 15, 2016 12:06 PM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions