Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Ruiz v. State: We're not giving any hints.

The Indiana Supreme Court issued a sentencing opinion today: Ruiz v. State, Supreme Court No. 48S02-0407-CR-329 (Ind. December 7, 2004). It is not a Blakely case. The court reduced a maximum 20-year sentence for a Class B felony to a the presumptive of 10 years. The aggravating circumstances were pure prior convictions that the court did not find particularly aggravating.

So this is arguably the third non-Blakely Blakely case from the Supreme Court since June 24th. Recall the first two were Merlington (8/31), in which the court reduced a 45-year sentence to the 30-year presumptive sentence for a Class A felony, and Francis (11/9), in which the court reduced a maximum Class A 50-year sentence to the presumptive 30 years. (I discussed both cases earlier in this post). It is only arguably the third in a series, because both Merlington and Francis involved aggravating circumstances subject to Blakely, if Blakely applies to Indiana sentencing. Ruiz only involves prior convictions, so even if the court tells us in Heath and Smylie that Blakely does apply to Indiana sentencing, that news would make no difference to Ruiz's case.

It is the third in the series, however, insofar as the court reduces a maximum or near maximum sentence to the presumptive. I have not done the research, but I cannot recall a case in which the Supreme Court has reduced a sentence to less than the presumptive even before Blakely.

Nevertheless, I do not think it should escape notice that the court is clearly keeping its powder dry and avoiding unnecessary footnotes or other asides in these sentencing decisions. The most it has said, actually, is through the denial of transfer (11/12) (discussed in this earlier post) in Wilkie, the case in which Judge Najam dropped the footnote leaving Blakely for another day.

I hated sentencing issues as a law clerk. I hated sentencing issues as a Deputy Attorney General. I have hated sentencing issues in private practice. My eyes have generally glazed over at the sentencing portions of the opinions that have come down over the years.

If someone had told me in May that I'd soon be picking sentencing cases apart quark by quark, essentially playing LSAT games with every available datum, I'd have suggested that person needed to take the waters. And religiously reading a thing called a "blog" with the name like Sentencing Law & Policy? Utterly impossible.

But as my four-year old said to me the other day in the car on the way to preschool, when I didn't particularly want to talk to him after a particularly difficult exit from the house, "Poppa, everything changes." Of course, when I asked him if he changes too, he said, "No."

No comments: