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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court decides two today, including Justice Slaughter's first opinion, a dissent

In James F. Griffith v. State of Indiana, a 13-page, 5-0 opinion, Chief Justice Rush writes:

James Griffith was convicted of murder, robbery, and conspiracy to commit robbery, and sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole (“LWOP”). On direct appeal, he claims (1) he was denied due process in discovery; (2) he was denied his right to a speedy trial; (3) the trial court abused its discretion in denying his requests to hire at public expense expert witnesses in DNA and blood spatter; (4) the trial court committed fundamental error by allowing witnesses to remain in the courtroom during opening statements; (5) the trial court abused its discretion by allowing the State’s entomologist to testify; (6) the trial court admitted evidence in violation of the Federal and Indiana Constitutions; and (7) insufficient evidence supported his convictions. Finding that Griffith’s claims lack merit, we affirm the trial court in all respects.
In Cynthia Bell v. State of Indiana, a 10-page, 3-2 opinion, Justice David writes:
Indiana Code § 35-38-2-2.3(a)(6) allows a trial court to order a defendant to pay restitution to a victim as a condition of probation, but the defendant’s ability to pay must be considered before the order to pay restitution is entered. In the present case, we find that the trial court abused its discretion because the evidence before the court was insufficient to conclude defendant had the ability to pay. As such, the ordered restitution is vacated. * * *

Under Ind. Code § 35-38-2-2.3(a)(6), a trial court may order restitution as a condition of probation, even if the defendant has been found indigent for other purposes. However, the trial court must fully assess a defendant’s actual ability to pay when ordering restitution. Because the trial court heard testimony as to Bell’s inability to pay, did not make further inquiry, and heard no rebutting evidence as to Bell’s ability to pay, the restitution order was an abuse of discretion. As such, we vacate the trial court’s order for restitution. Rush, C.J. and Rucker, J., concur.

Slaughter, J., concurs in part, dissents in part with separate opinion in which Massa, J., joins.

Slaughter, J., concurring in part, dissenting in part. I agree with the Court that the temporary trial judge abused his discretion in ordering Bell to pay $20 per week in restitution. The judge was obliged to ensure his restitution order was supported by record evidence that Bell could afford the payments he decreed. Yet he failed to do so. The restitution order cannot stand and must be vacated. According to the Court, that ends the matter. On this point, I respectfully dissent. In my view, we should remand to allow the trial court to enter a fully lawful sentence for Bell.

We do not know what sentence the trial court would have imposed had it concluded Bell could not afford restitution. Perhaps the result would have been the same—that the court still would have imposed the same probation, including the suspended sentence, no matter what. Or perhaps not. I would remand to allow the trial court to answer that question for us.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on September 29, 2016 03:23 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions