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December 15, 2005

Indiana Supreme Court gives broad interpretation to prior conviction exception

The Indiana Supreme Court this week finally resolved Ryle v. State, a major Apprendi's "prior conviction" exception case which addressed whether (1) juvenile adjudications and (2) being on probation can be subject to judicial factfinding to enhance sentences.  (I have spotlighted Ryle in prior posts here and here and here because it seems like a good test case for these important post-Blakely issues that have divided lower courts.)

In Ryle v. State, No. 49S02-0505-CR-207 (Ind. Dec. 13, 2005) (available here), a unanimous court concluded that judges can find facts about juvenile convictions and probation status without running afoul of the Sixth Amendment's jury trial right.  Here is the opening paragraph in Ryle:

When the trial court ordered an enhanced sentence for appellant Kenna D. Ryle's manslaughter conviction, it cited his four juvenile adjudications and the fact that he was on probation when he committed the crime.  Our analysis of Apprendi v. New Jersey leads us to conclude that these factors are proper sentencing considerations for a trial judge and need not be submitted to a jury.

The Ryle decision is an interesting read, and it provides another example of a court eager to give Apprendi and Blakely a functional reading, rather than apply these decision as drawing a bright line about what findings must be made by a jury.  (I explore whether Blakely draws a bright line in this post.)

More about the Ryle ruling can be found in this newspaper article about the decision.  The Indiana Supreme Court this week also resolved a similar case on the same basic grounds: Williams v. State, No. 49S02-0512-CR-643 (Ind. Dec. 13, 2005) (available here).

The Indiana Supreme Court's broad interpretation and application of the prior conviction exception stands in sharp contrast to the work of a number of other lower courts which have, as detailed in posts here and here and here, given the exception a narrow reading.  I continue to wonder how deep these splits will need to be before the Supreme Court finally takes up a case to address head-on the continued validity and precise scope of the "prior conviction exception."

December 15, 2005 at 09:36 AM | Permalink

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As an appellate defender, I cannot say enough about how this blog helps keeps me up to date on continuing Apprendi developments outside of my home state of Illinois. Thanks!

Posted by: Michael Orenstein | Dec 15, 2005 12:22:33 PM

Thanks for the thanks.

Posted by: Doug B. | Dec 15, 2005 1:04:30 PM

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