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Rice v. State

Supreme Court of Indiana

April 16, 2014

RONNIE JAMEL RICE, Appellant (Defendant below),
v.
STATE OF INDIANA, Appellee (Plaintiff below)

Page 941

Appeal from the Lake Superior Court, No. 45G03-0712-MR-11. The Honorable Diane Ross Boswell, Judge.

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: Thomas W. Vanes, Crown Point, Indiana.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: Gregory F. Zoeller, Attorney General of Indiana, James B. Martin, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Massa, Justice. Dickson, C.J., and Rucker, David, and Rush, JJ., concur.

OPINION

Page 942

Massa, Justice.

Ronnie Jamel Rice appeals the trial court's sentencing order, arguing it improperly relies on non-statutory aggravators as a basis for imposing a sentence of life imprisonment without parole. Because we believe the order as revised comports with our precedent and does not represent an abuse of the trial court's discretion, we affirm.

Facts and Procedural History

Rice pled guilty to murder, murder in the perpetration of a robbery, and robbery. He was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole and exercised his right to direct appeal to this Court. On appeal, Rice argued the trial court erred in considering non-statutory aggravating circumstances to support the sentencing order, and that his sentence was inappropriate and should be revised.

This Court held oral argument in February 2013 and thereafter issued an order directing the trial court to revise the sentencing order to comport with prior case law and to clarify " whether the trial court relied on non-capital aggravators when imposing sentence." Rice v. State, No. 45S00-1206-CR-343, Order Remanding for Revised Sentencing Order, (Ind. Feb. 12, 2013). The trial court issued a revised sentencing order of life without parole on March 5, 2013, and Rice appeals again, arguing the order remains deficient.

Historical Context

In 2005, the Indiana General Assembly amended our sentencing statutes in response to a series of United States Supreme Court decisions that limited the discretion of trial court judges.[1] Important to this discussion, the amended statute includes a non-exhaustive list of aggravating and mitigating circumstances trial courts may consider, and provides in part: " A court may impose any sentence that is: (1) authorized by statute; and (2) permissible under the Constitution of the State of Indiana; regardless of the presence or absence of aggravating circumstances or mitigating circumstances ." Ind. Code § 35-38-1-7.1(d) (2008 & Supp. 2013) (emphasis added). However, the Legislature left intact Ind. Code § 35-38-1-3, which provides:

Before sentencing a person for a felony, the court must conduct a hearing to consider the facts and circumstances relevant to sentencing. The person is entitled to subpoena and call witnesses and to present information in his own behalf. The court shall make a record of the hearing, including: (1) a transcript of the hearing; (2) a copy of the presentence

Page 943

report; and (3) if the court finds aggravating circumstances or mitigating circumstances, a statement of the court's reasons for selecting the sentence that it imposes.

Ind. Code § 35-38-1-3 (2008).

After these enactments, we decided Anglemyer v. State, 868 N.E.2d 482 (Ind. 2007) in which we reiterated that " sentencing decisions rest within the sound discretion of the trial court and are reviewed on appeal only for an abuse of discretion." Id. at 490 (citing Smallwood v. State, 773 N.E.2d 259, 263 (Ind. 2002)). And, while we held the trial court is no longer required to weigh aggravating and mitigating factors against each other, id. at 491, the trial court is required to issue " a statement of facts, in some detail, which are peculiar to the particular defendant and the crime, as opposed to general impressions or conclusions." Id. at 490 (quoting Page v. State, 424 N.E.2d 1021, 1023 (Ind. 1981)). Without the trial court's reasons for imposing the sentence, appellate courts would be unable to carry out their function of reviewing the trial court's exercise of discretion in sentencing. Id.

In Pittman v. State, 885 N.E.2d 1246 (Ind. 2008), we held that trial judges exercising discretion over the sentence imposed for the death penalty or life imprisonment without parole must comply with the requirements outlined in Harrison v. State, 644 N.E.2d 1243, 1262 (Ind. 1995). Pittman, 885 N.E.2d at 1253-54. Thus, trial court judges are held to the same standard today when exercising discretion on sentencing decisions as they were before the sentencing amendment revisions.

Standard of Review

In Harrison v. State we required sentencing findings in capital cases:

(i) must identify each mitigating and aggravating circumstance found, (ii) must include the specific facts and reasons which lead the court to find the existence of each such circumstance, (iii) must articulate that the mitigating and aggravating circumstances have been evaluated and balanced in determination of the sentence, . . . and (iv) must set forth the trial court's ...

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