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December 14, 2004

Fascinating "prior conviction" case from Indiana

Though, as detailed here and here, I have given up trying to track comprehensively Blakely decisions coming from lower state courts, I still hope to spotlight state Blakely rulings that are particularly noteworthy or interesting.  Today's decision from Indiana in Ryle v. State, 2004 WL 2857496 (Ind. App. Dec. 14, 2004), qualifies because of its thorough discussion of the scope of Blakely's "prior conviction" exception.

I have done a lot of previous coverage of the "prior conviction" exception (examples here and here and here and here), and also more recently addressed generally criminal history issues.  (These issues also intersect with the offense/offender distinction I champion in my Conceptualizing Blakely article.)

Ryle incorporates all the issues of these prior posts in one ruling: the court affirms an enhanced Indiana sentence over Blakely objections based "Ryle's criminal history, which included two adult criminal convictions and four juvenile adjudications, and the fact that he was on probation at the time he committed the instant offense."  The court, after a thorough review of recent case law (and noting some divisions of authority), concludes that "Ryle's enhanced sentence of forty-five years does not violate his Sixth Amendment rights:"

[T]he two aggravators identified by the trial court, namely, Ryle's criminal history, which includes juvenile adjudications, and the fact that he was on probation at the time he committed the instant offense are both proper under Blakely [because] those aggravators do not trigger the Blakely analysis.

As suggested in my prior posts, the Ryle court's conclusions are quite debatable. (Indeed, as noted here, appellate courts in Oregon last week came to a directly contrary conclusion concerning the scope of the "prior conviction" exception).

Perhaps even more disconcerting, it seems somewhat unlikely the Supreme Court will resolve (or even speak to) this important issue concerning the scope of Blakely's "prior conviction" exception in Booker and Fanfan.  Thus, we may have a very long wait for a definitive resolution of an issue that is of critical importance to the operation of most sentencing guidelines systems.

December 14, 2004 at 05:25 PM | Permalink


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If you are looking for a possible upcoming Supreme Court case on the "prior conviction" exception, perhaps you should consider the potential that the Shepard case houses.

Posted by: Center for Equal Rights | Dec 14, 2004 8:20:11 PM

link to the indiana case? my brain hurts.

Posted by: BLG | Dec 15, 2004 12:31:03 AM

The Center for Equal Rights correctly notes that Sheppard might be of some help. Indeed, the N.A.C.D.L. primarily discussed the Almendarez-Torres exception in its amicus. The problem is that when the Court asked Sheppard's counsel whether Sheppard was joining the amicus's argument related to Almendarez-Torres, counsel answered "no." Thus, the Court may not address the Almendarez-Torres exception in Sheppard. We can hope, however, that the Court will pick it up anyway. (Remember, the focus of Sheppard was the limits of the categorical approach, not the Almendarez-Torres exception).

Posted by: doug morris | Dec 15, 2004 8:39:09 AM

It is difficult to tell why this decision came down thusly. If it is not a case of undisciplined thinking, then surely there is ideology at play.

First, criminal history is generally taken into account in any guideline scheme, so treating it as an aggravator is redundant. (Excuse me if I am wrong on Indiana sentencing structure. If someone knows, please inform.) Additionally, Juvenile adjudications do not afford the child the same rights and priviledges as adults, so their inclusion in this decision is suspect.

Second, violation of probation has a specifically designed and well-established legal remedy already in place. Again, treating it as an aggravator is redundant.

Maybe a de facto life sentence for Ryle is not the worst occurrence of miscarried justice in the history of U.S. jurisprudence. (Ryle may place it right up there though, I admit.) However, the level at which this decision was reached is very troubling, as it will cause such inappropriate decisions to be made repeatedly.

Posted by: Jeannie | Dec 15, 2004 8:49:55 AM

very interesting read

Posted by: mark | Dec 15, 2004 10:17:36 AM

Jeannie, perhaps the decision will seem less ideological to you (or maybe not) once I explain our sentencing structure here in Indiana. I am a trial court judge here in Indiana.

Our legislature has classified felonies (A, B, C, and D) and set a presumptive sentence for each class (30, 10, 4, and 1 1/2 years, respectively). Murder is defined separately and carries a presumptive sentence of 55 years. Each class allows a judge to impose a sentence lesser or greater than the presumptive sentence upon a finding of aggravating or mitigating circumstances. For example, an A felony conviction (30 year presumptive) may get up to 20 years added to, or up to 10 years subtracted from, the presumptive sentence. The potential range of possible sentences is therefore 20-50 years. Each class of felony carries a specific upside and downside which defines the range for that class. A judge also has the power to suspend all or part of a sentence, subject to certain statutory limitations on that power.

The Indiana Supreme Court has repeatedly held that it only requires the finding of one aggravating circumstance to support a sentence that exceeds the statory presumptive sentence. A finding by the court in Ryle, that a defendant has a prior conviction could be an aggravator justifying a 45 year sentence, while at the same avoiding the fundamental Blakely jury right considerations. The use of the term "criminal history," however, is troublesome. As a now-retired judge from this couty used to say, "That's why we call them the court of last mistake." I, of course, would never say such a thing, but I'm always happy to quote him.

I think that judges here believe that Blakely limits an Indiana judge's power to impose a sentence greater than the presumptive sentence. To do otherwise would make Blakely virtually meaningless under our sentencing scheme. But all of us are awaiting a decision from our state Supreme Court on the issue of how Blakely affects us, which may or may not come before Booker and Fanfan is decided.

We do have the benefit of a very fine blog by Michael Ausbrook which keeps us abreast of these issues in Indiana, and elsewhere. http://incourts.blogspot.com/ I recommend it to you all.

BLG, I apologize if this makes your brain hurt even more.

Posted by: Les | Dec 16, 2004 2:41:18 PM

Les, thank you for your enlightening and detailed explanation of Indiana's sentencing structure, its application in this case, and related Blakely difficulties. It does make my presumptuous comment even more inappropriate.

My sense of it now builds on what you explain about the sentencing scheme, overall as well as wrt Blakely problems. It seems that some are concerned that Blakely may cause the presumptive sentences to become the new (lower)statutory maxima. Essentially, Washington's sentencing scheme had their interim sentencing points redefined in Blakely as new statutory maxima, as opposed to the much higher original maximum for the entire crime category. My own ideology is betrayed in that I am still bothered by the treatment of prior convictions as an aggravator to an instant crime for the purposes of increasing the sentence. I wholly agree that prior conviction should impact the length of sentences. I also believe that this is an entirely different issue than that addressed by Blakely. Blakely seems more to try to keep us faithful to the concept of being sentenced for the crime admitted to or found guilty of BRD. To paraphrase Scalia, a charged illegal lane change with guilt found BRD shouldn't be punished by the sentence for a homicide that wasn't charged, even if there were findings that a your guy drove the getaway car while changing lanes illegally. Prior convictions, not being part of a crime that is charged, proven BRD, or admitted to, need to be addressed separately for sentencing purposes, I postulate.

I appreciate your patience in explaining details understandably to this lay person--no easy task, I'm sure. Thank you.

Posted by: Jeannie | Dec 16, 2004 9:27:35 PM


Posted by: RALPH JONES | Feb 10, 2005 9:02:04 PM

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