A person in Indiana who has been convicted of a crime has the right to appeal their sentence to the higher courts. The right to sentence appeal comes from the Indiana Constitution. The standard for sentence appeal is Indiana Appellate Rule 7, which states: “The Court may revise a sentence authorized by statute if, after due consideration of the trial court’s decision, the Court finds that the sentence is inappropriate in light of the nature of the offense and the character of the offender.” Article 7, Section 4 of the Indiana Constitution states the Indiana Supreme Court “shall have, in all appeals of criminal cases, the power to review all questions of law and to review and revise the sentence imposed.” Article 7, Section 6 of the Indiana Constitution states that the Indiana Court of Appeals exercises appellate jurisdiction in accordance with Indiana Supreme Court rules, and these rules include “the absolute right to one appeal and to the extent provided by rule, review and revision of sentences for defendants in all criminal cases.”
The purpose of allowing people to appeal a judgment is the trial court, whether judge or jury, don’t always get it right for a variety of reasons: nobody is perfect, including our government and its people. Regarding sentencing, a judge can sometimes be too harsh, which I believe to be the main purpose behind the right to sentence appeal. A sentence normally needs to go beyond the advisory sentence to be possibly considered too “harsh.” Sentences can have a major effect on a person’s life, liberty, and property, which are incredibly important things. The power imbalance between a criminal defendant and the State is very large in favor of the State. Because a sentence deals with such important matters and the State has so much more power than an individual, it is crucial that people have the right to request another set of eyes to review their sentence. An interesting aspect of Indiana Appellate Rule 7 is that the State is not allowed to initiate an appeal of a sentence. I believe the State is prohibited from initiating an appeal for a number of reasons: the power imbalance between a person and the State, the importance of checking State power, the consequences of a harsh sentence are more than a lenient sentence, and people have rights against the government instead of the other way around.
An interesting question regarding the appeal of a sentence is whether a person can appeal a plea agreement. Many cases are disposed of by a plea agreement and, often times, a waiver of the right to appeal a sentence is included in a plea agreement. An opposing argument is a Defendant agrees a sentence is appropriate by entering into a plea agreement and, thus, has forfeited the ability to argue the sentence is inappropriate. The Indiana Supreme Court has decided that the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals always retain their power under the Indiana Constitution to review and revise a sentence in accordance with Indiana Appellate Rule 7, even if there is a plea agreement: see Childress v. State, 848 NE 2d 1073 (Ind. 2006). However, a person still has to prove that their sentence is inappropriate.
If you have been sentenced in a criminal matter and are interested in pursuing sentence appeal, contact me today.