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Criminal Sentencing

Abbott v. State

The Supreme Court, in a 3-2 decision, revised a criminal defendant’s sentence from 20 years to 12 years. The defendant, who represented himself on transfer, was convicted of possessing cocaine within 1,000 feet of a school following a traffic stop. Justice Rucker, writing for the majority, emphasized that possession of cocaine is generally a Class D felony and that the location of the stop was at the arresting officer’s request. Justice Rucker hinted that the defendant’s trial and appellate counsel should have argued that the defendant possessed the cocaine within 1,000 feet of a school at the request or suggestion of a police officer, which is a defense to the enhancement. Had this defense been successful, the defendant would have been convicted of a Class D felony, which has a maximum sentence of only 3 years. The majority recognized that the defendant’s character did not warrant modification, but concluded that the nature of the offense rendered a 12-year, as opposed to 20-year sentence, appropriate. The dissent (Justice David with Justice Dickson), concluded that the defendant’s lengthy criminal history justified the 20-year sentence.

This case is unusual, in that a pro se defendant succeeded where his prior counsel had failed. The case should also lead criminal appellate attorneys to closely examine sentences based on enhancements. If the basis for the enhancement was suspect, a sentence close to the advisory may be more appropriate than a maximum sentence.

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