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State v. Stidham

Court of Appeals of Indiana

September 6, 2018

State of Indiana, Appellant-Respondent,
v.
Matthew Stidham, Appellee-Plaintiff.

          Appeal from the Delaware Circuit Court The Honorable Kimberly S. Dowling, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 18C02-1602-PC-3

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Ellen H. Meilaender Supervising Deputy Attorney General Jodi Kathryn Stein Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE David W. Stone, IV STONE Law Office & Legal Research Anderson, Indiana

          Brown, Judge.

         [¶1] The State of Indiana appeals the post-conviction court's grant of a petition for post-conviction relief filed by Matthew Stidham. The State raises one issue which we revise and restate as whether the post-conviction court erred by granting Stidham post-conviction relief. We reverse.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2] The relevant facts as discussed in Stidham's direct appeal follow:

On the night of February 23, 1991, [Stidham] and several of his friends, including the decedent in this case, drove to the decedent's apartment where they drank whiskey and played guitars. They eventually started "trading punches." This evidentially started as horseplay but grew into an angry encounter between [Stidham] and the decedent.
As the fight escalated, the others joined with [Stidham] in beating the decedent. Not only did they beat and kick the decedent, but they also struck him with a wooden club. They then loaded much of the decedent's electronic equipment into his van, gagged him, placed him in the back of the van and drove off. They eventually arrived at a secluded area near the Mississinewa River where the decedent was removed from the van and again beaten and stabbed some forty-seven times before his body was thrown into the river. After visiting with friends, who they told of the killing, [Stidham] and his associates drove into the State of Illinois where they were arrested.

Stidham v. State, 637 N.E.2d 140, 142 (Ind. 1994).

         [¶3] A jury trial resulted in the conviction of Stidham for murder, robbery as a class A felony, criminal confinement as a class B felony, battery as a class C felony, and auto theft as a class D felony. Id. In February 1993, the Indiana Supreme Court reversed Stidham's convictions and remanded the case for a new trial. Id. (citing Stidham v. State, 608 N.E.2d 699 (Ind. 1993)).

         [¶4] After retrial and convictions on all counts, Stidham appealed. Id. In that appeal, he contended in part that his 141-year sentence was unreasonable and disproportionate to the crime. Id. at 144. He argued "in sharp contrast to his behavior prior to his original sentencing, his behavior in prison had been exemplary, that he had obtained a GED, and that he actively participated in a substance abuse program as certified by a letter to Judge Dailey from Linda Poe[, ] the substance abuse supervisor at the institution." Id. He also argued that the record disclosed that he was an abused child. Id.

         [¶5] In an opinion issued in July 1994, the Indiana Supreme Court concluded: "Given the extreme brutality of the crimes committed in this case, the trial judge was well within his discretion in refusing to mitigate the sentences either on [Stidham's] subsequent conduct in the prison or the abuse he had received as a child." Id. The Court observed: "As pointed out by the trial judge, two of [Stidham's] brothers had received the same treatment but had become upstanding citizens in their community." Id. The Court concluded that the sentence was defective in one regard, remanded to the trial court for the purpose of vacating the auto theft conviction as it should have been merged with the robbery conviction, and affirmed the trial court in all other respects.[1]Id.

         [¶6] On February 8, 2016, Stidham filed a verified petition for post-conviction relief contending that his sentence violated the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 16 of the Indiana Constitution. On February 12, 2016, the State filed an answer to Stidham's petition, and on October 27, 2016, the court held a hearing. Stidham's counsel offered an exhibit "which is a full and complete transcript, which is a fair and accurate copy of the original and that includes everything from the beginning through the sentencing and all the appendices." October 27, 2016 Transcript at 5. The prosecutor had no objection, and the court admitted it as Petitioner's Exhibit 1. Delonda Lee Hartman testified that Stidham was her student when she was teaching for Ball State University at Indiana State Prison in Michigan City. She stated she thought Stidham was one of those students highlighted in a video titled Cell Block Scholars. Stidham's counsel offered the video as an exhibit, and the prosecutor objected on the basis of relevance. Stidham's counsel argued that the video supports that "juveniles should be treated differently by the Court" and that "juveniles need to have the ability to be reformed." Id. at 8-9. The court overruled the objection and admitted the exhibit. Hartman testified that Stidham matured, was very helpful in class, and was an exemplary student.

         [¶7] Stidham indicated that he had "no real formal education" prior to being sentenced but had become a full-time firefighter in prison, taught the biohazard certification program and for an apprenticeship program, and was the firefighter instructor. Id. at 12.

         [¶8] On November 29, 2016, he filed proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law, which concluded that his sentence should be ordered reduced to time served. On January 3, 2017, the post-conviction court entered an order granting Stidham's petition and stating in part:

** * * *
2. [Stidham] was seventeen (17) years old at the time of the offense.
** * * *
8. The Petition raises a single issue for consideration by this Court: Whether [Stidham's] sentence violates the 8thAmendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article 1 Sec 16 of the Indiana Constitution prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment.
9. Based upon the sentence imposed by this Court, if [Stidham] is still alive, he will be eighty two (82) years of age when his sentence is complete.
10. Since [Stidham] was sentenced much research has been done on the brains of juveniles and their ability to change.
11. Neither the trial court nor the Supreme Court had access to this information and research since it did not exist at that time.
12. Furthermore, [Stidham's] actions and progress in prison is a testament to this research.
13. There is no question that the crimes committed were heinous.
14. The question for the Court, however, is whether the sentence imposed was excessive in light of the research done and cases decided in the meantime.
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
15. The United States Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455');">132 S.Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012) held that the imposition of mandatory life sentences without parole on juveniles is forbidden.
16. Miller requires the sentencing judge to "take into account how children are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison" [132] S.Ct. at 2469.
17. While Stidham was not sentenced to life without parole, it is the functional equivalent.
18. Other courts in other jurisdictions have held similarly in cases involving juveniles. Hayden v. Keller, 134 F.Supp.3d 1000 (E.D. N.C. 2015) cites several cases where de facto life sentences for juveniles were held to be cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the 8th Amendment of the Constitution.
19. The Indiana Supreme Court relied on Miller in two separate 2014 cases.
20. In Brown v. State[, ] 10 N.E.3d 1 (Ind. 2014)[, ] and Fuller v. State, [9 N.E.3d 653 (Ind. 2014), ] the Court held that imposition of juveniles of two consecutive 75 year sentences for two (2) murders was improper.
21. The Court in those cases discussed the U.S. Supreme Court's observations that first, a juvenile lacks maturity and has an underdeveloped sense of responsibility; second that they are more vulnerable or susceptible to negative influences and outside pressures, including peer pressure, and they have limited control over their own environment and lack the ability to extricate themselves from horrific, crime-producing settings; and third a child's character is not as well formed as an adult's and his actions are less likely to be evidence of irretrievable depravity.
22. The Court in Fuller found that the maximum consecutive sentence means denial of hope; it means that good behavior and character improvement are immaterial; it means that whatever the future might hold in store for the mind and spirit of the juvenile convict, he will remain in prison for the rest of his days.
23. As a result, this Court finds that [Stidham's] sentence was excessive in light of his age at the time of the offense and his Petition should be GRANTED.

Appellant's Appendix Volume 2 at 51-52 (underlining omitted).

         [¶9] The State appealed. In a memorandum decision, we held that the post-conviction court had not entered "an appropriate order with respect to the conviction or sentence" or complied with Section 6 of Ind. Post-Conviction Rule 1 and we remanded for further proceedings. See State v. Stidham, No. 18A02-1701-PC-68, slip op. at 8 (Ind.Ct.App. June 14, 2017).

         [¶10] The State petitioned for rehearing and argued that this Court should have addressed its arguments that Stidham's sentencing claim was barred from review by procedural default, that his sentence did not violate the Eighth Amendment, and that the post-conviction court could not revisit a sentence found not unreasonable or disproportionate by the Indiana Supreme Court. The State also argued that we should grant rehearing to clarify a jurisdictional issue, i.e., whether this Court had retained jurisdiction or whether a new notice of appeal would be necessary. We granted rehearing to clarify that we retained jurisdiction and remanded for the post-conviction court to issue a sentencing order. See State v. Stidham, No. 18A02-1701-PC-68 (Ind.Ct.App. October 18, 2017).

         [¶11] On December 13, 2017, the State filed a Verified Motion for Writ in Aid of Appellate Jurisdiction asserting that the post-conviction court scheduled a resentencing hearing for March 8, 2018, and requested that this Court order the post-conviction court to issue an amended post-conviction order within fifteen days specifying the relief granted so that this Court could adjudicate the State's appeal and to refrain from holding new sentencing ...


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