November 09, 2004

Indiana Decisions - Three today from the Supreme Court

Richard L. Francis v. State of Indiana (11/9/04 IndSCt) [Criminal Law & Procedure]
Sullivan, Justice

Defendant Richard L. Francis was charged with and pled guilty to child molesting. The sentencing court enhanced the presumptive sentence of 30 years applicable here by an additional 20, for a total sentence of 50 years. Finding that Francis’s guilty plea and other mitigating circumstances balance the aggravating circumstances, we revise Francis’s sentence to the presumptive sentence of 30 years. * * *

This Court has recognized before that “a defendant who willingly enters a plea of guilty has extended a substantial benefit to the state and deserves to have a substantial benefit extended to him in return.” Scheckel v. State, 655 N.E.2d 506, 511 (Ind. 1995) (quoting Williams v. State, 430 N.E.2d 759, 764 (1982), reh’g denied, 459 U.S. 808 (1982)). A guilty plea demonstrates a defendant's acceptance of responsibility for the crime and extends a benefit to the State and to the victim or the victim's family by avoiding a full-blown trial. * * * Thus, a defendant who pleads guilty deserves to have mitigating weight extended to the guilty plea in return. * * * We find that the court erred in not considering the guilty plea to be a mitigating circumstance. * * *

Because we find the guilty plea to be a weighty mitigating circumstance, which, with other mitigating circumstances, balances the aggravating circumstances that the court identified, we conclude that the presumptive sentence of 30 years is the appropriate sentence in light of the nature of this offense and the character of this offender. See Ind. Appellate Rule 7(B).

Conclusion. We reverse Francis’s sentence of 50 years and remand to the sentencing court with instructions to issue an amended sentencing order and to issue or make any other documents or docket entries necessary to impose a sentence of 30 years, without a hearing.

Shepard, C.J., and Boehm and Rucker, JJ., concur. Dickson, J., dissents without opinion.

Daniel Boone Collins v. State of Indiana (11/9/04 IndSCt) [Criminal Law & Procedure]
Sullivan, Justice
In this case, we resolve a conflict in the Court of Appeals over whether an individual who pleads guilty to an offense in an “open plea” is entitled to challenge the sentence imposed by means of a petition of post-conviction relief. Following Taylor v. State, 780 N.E.2d 430 (Ind. Ct. App. 2003), trans. denied, 804 N.E.2d 760 (Ind. 2003), we hold that such claims must be raised on direct appeal if at all. We also point out that Ind. Post-Conviction Rule 2 may be available for this purpose. * * *

A person who pleads guilty is not permitted to challenge the propriety of that conviction on direct appeal. However, a person who pleads guilty is entitled to contest on direct appeal the merits of a trial court's sentencing decision where the trial court has exercised sentencing discretion, i.e., where the sentence is not part offixed by the plea agreement. Tumulty v. State, 666 N.E.2d 394, 395-96 (Ind. 1996). (A plea agreement where the issue of sentencing is left to the trial court's discretion is often referred to as an “open plea.” * * * We will use that terminology in this opinion.)

We hold that the proper procedure for an individual who has pled guilty in an open plea to challenge the sentence imposed is to file a direct appeal or, if the time for filing a direct appeal has run, to file an appeal under P-C. R. 2. Here the post-conviction court should have dismissed the petition for post-conviction relief for lack of jurisdiction without prejudice to any right Collins may have to file a belated notice of appeal under in accordance with the requirements of P-C. R. 2. * * *

Shepard, C.J., and Dickson, Boehm, and Rucker, JJ., concur.

Warren Gutermuth v. State of Indiana (11/9/04 IndSCt) [Criminal Law & Procedure]
Sullivan, Justice
* * * In all relevant respects, Gutermuth's situation is the same as that of the petitioner in Collins. Accordingly, we hold that the post-conviction court should have dismissed the petition for post-conviction relief for lack of jurisdiction without prejudice to any right Gutermuth may have to file a belated notice of appeal in accordance with the requirements of P-C. R. 2. * * *
Shepard, C.J., and Dickson, Boehm, and Rucker, JJ, concur.

Posted by Marcia Oddi at November 9, 2004 02:28 PM