Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Indiana
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of murder and other crimes and sentencing him to life without parole, holding that each of Defendant's contentions on appeal were without merit. Specifically, the Court held (1) sufficient evidence supported Defendant's conviction for auto theft, and the Court needn't address Defendant's felony-murder challenge because the trial court merged those verdicts with his murder convictions; (2) any error in the trial court's admonishments to the jurors each time they were separated wasn't fundamental; (3) the trial court did not violate Defendant's Confrontation Clause rights by admitting post-crime text messages of Defendant's co-conspirator because the messages weren't testimonial; (4) any error in the decision of the trial court to read a withdrawn accomplice liability instruction was harmless; and (5) the trial court did not manifestly abuse its discretion when it sentenced Defendant to life without parole. View "Cardosi v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the trial court granting Defendant's petition to modify her Class B felony sentence, holding that the trial court had no discretion to modify Defendant's sentence because Defendant's plea agreement called for a fixed sentence. In today's companion case, Rodriguez v. State, __ N.E.3d __ (Ind. 2019), the Supreme Court determined that the legislature's amendments to Ind. Code 35-38-1-17 did not signify a shift from the long-standing precedent of Pannarale v. State, 638 N.E.2d 1247 (Ind. 1994), in which the Court found that trial courts are bound by the terms of a plea agreement and may only modify a sentence in a way that would have been authorized at the time of sentencing. In the instant case, the trial court granted Defendant's petition to modify her sentence, which was imposed in accordance with the terms of a plea agreement. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that because Defendant's plea agreement called for a fixed sentence the trial court was bound by these terms and had no discretion to modify Defendant's sentence. View "State v. Stafford" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court denying Defendant's petition to modify his sentence on the grounds that it was not authorized to modify the sentence imposed under Defendant's fixed-term plea agreement, holding that the decades-old rule that courts may modify a sentence only if a new sentence would not have violated the terms of the valid plea agreement had the new sentence been originally imposed remained undisturbed. Defendant petitioned to modify his sentence, arguing that recent changes to the modification statute supported the court's ability to modify his sentence. The State opposed the petition, arguing that courts have no power to modify a sentence once the court has accepted a binding stipulated plea agreement. The trial court agreed and denied Defendant's motion to modify his sentence. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that modification of Defendant's sentence was permissible. The Supreme Court granted transfer and affirmed the judgment of the trial court, holding that the legislature's amendments did not alter the settled law of Pannarale v. State, 638 N.E.2d 1247 (Ind. 1994), and its progeny, and therefore, the trial court properly found that it had no discretion to modify Defendant's sentence because it was bound by the terms of the valid plea agreement. View "Rodriguez v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's conviction of Class A misdemeanor domestic battery, holding that Defendant did not validly waive his right to a jury trial. In the underlying proceedings Defendant signed two advisement of rights forms. By the time he signed the second form the deadline to request a jury trial had passed. Neither form advised Defendant of the timeline to file a demand for a jury trial and that his failure to file a demand within that period would result in the waiver of his right. Further, the first advisement of rights did not inform Defendant that his demand for a jury trial had to be in writing. The Supreme Court held that Defendant did not validly waive his right to a jury trial. Because the evidence was sufficient to support the conviction, the Court noted that the State was free to retry Defendant. View "Dadouch v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the trial court ordering state police officers to turn over to federal authorities a shipped box containing U.S. currency wrapped in multiple layers of sealed packaging that bore the odor of narcotics, holding that the totality of the circumstances established the requisite probable cause to believe the money was proceeds of drug trafficking. The shipped box in this case displayed hallmarks of parcels containing drugs and drug money. The officer sought and was granted a warrant authorizing a search of the package and seizure of proceeds of drug trafficking. Officers proceeded to open the box, and a canine alerted that the money contained therein, and not just the packaging surrounding it, contained the odor of narcotics. The officers then seized the cash and obtained a court order to turn it over to federal authorities. Appellant, the individual who shipped the parcel, argued on appeal that the seizure exceeded the scope of the warrant. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) all the circumstances supplied a basis for probable cause to believe the cash was proceeds of drug trafficking; and (2) therefore, the seizure was lawful, and the trial court properly made its order transferring the property to the federal government. View "Hodges v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted transfer in this case to eliminate a residual double jeopardy violation not addressed by the court of appeals, holding that one of Defendant's remaining convictions must be reduced to a lesser included offense to eliminate the violation. Defendant was convicted of possession of cocaine, enhanced to a level four felony; possession of a narcotic drug, enhanced to a level five felony; and unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon and adjudicated a habitual offender. On appeal, Defendant argued that his conviction for firearm possession and the enhancements applied to the drug-related counts violated double jeopardy principles because they were based on the same evidence - his possession of a single firearm. The court of appeals affirmed Defendant's drug-related convictions but reversed and vacated the conviction and sentence for the firearm possession conviction. The Supreme Court held that because Defendant's two drug-related convictions were enhanced based on the same evidence of his possession of a single firearm, Defendant's conviction on possession of a narcotic drug must be remanded for entry of judgment as a level six felony. View "Springfield v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the trial court granting Defendant's motion to suppress statements he made during an interrogation as inadmissible in his criminal trial, holding that there was substantial, probative evidence that Defendant was in custody at the time of the interrogation. Two police officers interrogated Defendant in a secured area at a police station without providing him with required Miranda warnings. In granting Defendant's motion to suppress, the trial court determined that the environment in which Defendant was interrogated was a "police setting." The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the totality of the circumstances supported the trial court's conclusion that the interrogation was custodial. View "State v. Ruiz" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court denying Defendant's motion to modify his sentence, holding that Defendant needed the prosecutor's consent to modification before the court could modify his sentence, and because Defendant did not have that consent, his motion was properly denied. Defendant pled guilty to a Class C felony and two Class D felonies and was sentenced to eight years for the Class C felony and two years for each of the Class D felonies. After he was released on parole Defendant filed a motion to modify his sentence on the Class C felony, arguing that the terms of his sentenced placed an unnecessary burden on him as he strived to contribute positively to the community. The trial court denied the motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because Defendant was a "violent criminal," his motion to modify was governed by subsection (k), and because Defendant filed his motion more than one year after he was sentenced, he needed, but did not have, the prosecutor's consent to modification before the court could modify his sentence. View "Barber v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the post-conviction court's order denying Appellant's motion to correct error and remanded this matter for further proceedings, holding that a post-conviction court abuses its discretion when it denies a party's legitimate request to make an offer of proof. Appellant was convicted of murder. When seeking post-conviction relief Appellant found himself sharing a holding cell with a man who provided information that, if true, would exonerate Appellant. Appellant's attorney attempted to secure the man's testimony, but obtaining the testimony was challenging. Appellant's counsel eventually sought leave from the court to get the testimony, but the post-conviction court refused to hear any argument from the attorney, even denying her the opportunity to make an offer of proof. After the court closed the evidence and Appellant's counsel attempted to make her case and develop a record for appeal, the court silenced her with threats of contempt. The Supreme Court reversed the post-conviction court's order denying Appellant's motion to correct error, holding that the post-conviction court abused its discretion by denying counsel the opportunity to make an offer of proof. View "Bedolla v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of dealing in a narcotic drug and resisting law enforcement, holding that the trial court did not commit fundamental error by allowing the State to present evidence of Defendant's post-arrest, pre-Miranda silence during trial. The court of appeals affirmed Defendant's conviction conviction, concluding that there was no error in using Defendant's post-arrest, pre-Miranda silence as substantive evidence against him during trial and that, even if there was error, it was not fundamental. The Supreme Court granted transfer and held (1) Defendant opened the door to the State's response that included comments about Defendant's post-arrest, pre-Miranda silence; and (2) even if the trial court erred in admitting the State's evidence and argument about Defendant's silence, the error was not fundamental for the reasons articulated in Owens v. State, 937 N.E.2d 880 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010). View "Kelly v. State" on Justia Law