How Courts Apply the Indiana Sentencing Guidelines

February 28, 2022

By Keffer Hirschauer LLP

How Courts Apply the Indiana Sentencing Guidelines

Indiana courts have some discretion when imposing a sentence after conviction, but that discretion is governed by the Indiana sentencing guidelines. As a result, different offenders may receive different sentences for convictions for the same level of an offense. An experienced criminal defense attorney understands how a court could apply the guidelines in a case and what the court may—and may not—consider in determining a sentence, making your choice of defense counsel critical to protecting your rights.

The Indiana criminal defense attorneys at Keffer Hirschauer LLP explain your sentencing exposure, identify factors the court may consider as well as those it may not, and fight to protect your rights through trial, sentencing, and beyond.

Recent History on the Indiana Sentencing Guidelines

In 2014, the Indiana General Assembly reformed the criminal code, Indiana Code title 35. The overall goal of the reform was to reduce recidivism and stretch limited Indiana Department of Correction resources. The new law includes changes to the Indiana sentencing guidelines, impacting sentencing for offenses committed after July 1, 2014, in some cases drastically altering an offender’s sentence exposure.

The most obvious change impacting sentencing is in the reconfiguration of the classifications of felony offenses. The new law eliminated five lettered categories and moved to six numbered levels of felonies. The actual exposure for different offenses changed in other ways, too. The new system lowered the maximum felony sentence exposure for non-murder offenses, redistributed the total felony sentence exposure over six categories, and attempted to make nonviolent sentences “match the crime.”

Whether an offense was committed before the passage of the 2014 criminal code revisions or afterward, understanding how the sentencing guidelines might apply in your case involves more than simply reading the statute or an Indiana sentencing chart. Successfully navigating the Indiana criminal code and protecting defendant rights both require counsel with a depth of criminal law knowledge and experience and legal skill in and out of the courtroom.

A Breakdown through an Indiana Sentencing Chart

The sentencing guidelines is the name given to a body of sentencing statutes found in Indiana Code article 35-50. In general, the Indiana sentencing guidelines set a range of possible sentences for each level of offense. As one would assume, the guidelines set higher sentences for felonies, the more serious offenses, than for misdemeanors, which are more minor offenses.

For each level of an offense, a sentencing statute sets a minimum and maximum sentence and an advisory sentence. Indiana Code § 35-50-2-1.3 defines an advisory sentence as a guideline the court may use when determining a sentence, but it is not required to use it as a starting point except in certain circumstances, namely for sentencing for nonviolent offenses that arise out of a single episode of criminal conduct or for sentencing a repeat sexual offender to an additional fixed term. This means that the trial court has significant discretion to impose a sentence anywhere within the range set by the relevant statute.

The new Indiana sentencing guidelines for felonies are found in Indiana Code chapter 35-50-2 and establish the following parameters for felony sentences:

    Level of Offense    Sentencing Range    Advisory Sentence   Fine
    Murder    45 to 65 years    None  $10,000
    Level 1 Felony    20 to 40 years    30 years  $10,000
    Level 2 Felony    10 to 30 years    17.5 years  $10,000
    Level 3 Felony    3 to 16 years    9 years  $10,000
    Level 4 Felony    2 to 12 years    6 years  $10,000
    Level 5 Felony    1 to 6 years    3 years  $10,000
    Level 6 Felony    6 months to 2.5 years    1 year  $10,000

 

Because the new Indiana criminal sentencing guidelines are relatively recent, the code still includes the felony sentencing guidelines under the former felony classification scheme where the sentence differs from the new guidelines:

    Level of Offense    Sentencing Range    Advisory Sentence  Fine
    Class A Felony    20 to 50 years    30 years  $10,000
    Class B Felony    6 to 20 years    10 years  $10,000
    Class C Felony    2 to 8 years    4 years  $10,000
    Class D Felony    6 months to 3 years    1 years  $10,000

 

Under either the former or the sentencing guidelines updated in 2014, the court may also fine anyone convicted of a felony up to $10,000.

The classification of misdemeanor sentencing did not change with the 2014 criminal code overhaul, instead retaining the letter classifications. The Indiana sentencing guidelines for misdemeanors are in Indiana Code chapter 35-50-3, providing as follows:

    Level of Offense    Sentencing Range  Fine
    Class A Misdemeanor    0 to 365 days  $5,000
    Class B Misdemeanor    0 to 180 days  $1,000
    Class C Misdemeanor    0 to 60 days  $500

 

While the facts drive criminal cases, Indiana criminal defense attorneys have a crucial role in the offense charged, conviction or acquittal, and sentencing advocacy. When you work with an Indianapolis criminal defense lawyer from Keffer Hirschauer LLP, you have the benefit of working with a team whose experience as former prosecutors give them unique insight into successful criminal defense strategies.

What the Indiana Sentencing Guidelines Mean by Alternative Misdemeanor Sentencing

In addition to zealously protecting your rights throughout the life of a criminal case, in some cases, Indiana criminal defense attorneys can also advocate for alternative misdemeanor sentencing. Felony sentencing can subject an offender to generally higher sentences and higher fines as well as collateral (nonpenal) consequences. A felony record can negatively impact your options regarding jobs, professional licensure, housing, educational opportunities, and even custody matters. Working with a skilled criminal defense attorney may help you reduce this exposure.

The advantage is apparent when you compare the Indiana sentencing guidelines for a Level 6 felony against those for a Class A misdemeanor. A Level 6 felony exposes the offender to a sentence between six months and two and a half years with a possible fine up to $10,000. However, an offender sentenced for a Class A misdemeanor may be sentenced to no period of incarceration at all or a maximum sentence of one year, and any fine imposed would not exceed $500.

Alternative misdemeanor sentencing is available to an offender convicted of a Level 6 felony, but the criminal code contains two different paths for this result. Under Indiana Code § 35-50-2-7, the court enters a judgment of conviction for a Class A misdemeanor instead of the Level 6 felony proved or admitted in court and then imposes a Class A misdemeanor sentence. An offender who has already been sentenced for the Level 6 felony may petition to request alternative misdemeanor sentencing. Indiana Code § 35-38-1-1.5 offers another option for alternative misdemeanor sentencing. This avenue requires court and prosecutor agreement, and the offender must plead guilty to the Level 6 offense and then abide by any conditions imposed by the court. However, alternative misdemeanor sentencing under either statute is limited to certain circumstances—and prohibited in others—making your choice of Indiana criminal defense attorney critical for exploring this option.

The Indiana Sentencing Guidelines Include Aggravators and Mitigators that Can Affect You Sentence

The Indiana sentencing guidelines allow the court at the time of sentencing to use the facts surrounding the offense or the offender to enhance (add to) or decrease a period of incarceration. Referred to as aggravators and mitigators for sentencing, these are circumstances under Indiana Code § 35-38-1-7.1 that the court may use to impose a sentence higher or lower than the advisory sentence for an offense. Examples of aggravators include:

  • The offender’s criminal or delinquency record
  • The degree of harm caused that was significant or far greater than needed to prove the offense
  • The victim’s age (younger than 12 or older than 65)
  • The offense involved the violation of a protective order
  • The offense was violent and committed in the presence of a minor who was not the victim
  • The victim was in the care, custody, or control of the offender

On the other hand, the court can also consider mitigators, extenuating circumstances that could justify a sentence below the advisory sentence. Following are some examples of mitigating factors:

  • The offense did not cause significant harm
  • The victim aided in or induced the commission of the offense
  • The offender is likely to positively respond to probation or a short term of incarceration
  • The offender’s attitude and character indicate that reoffending is unlikely
  • The offender has or will make restitution
  • The offense was committed as a result of strong provocation

Indiana Code § 35-50-2-9 sets out similar lists of aggravating and mitigating factors for when the court is imposing a sentence for murder.

The court relies on information presented by Indiana criminal defense attorneys, the prosecutor’s office, and the probation department to determine an offender’s sentence. The only source rooting for you in this group is your criminal defense lawyer, making your choice of lawyer especially important. With an experienced criminal defense attorney in your corner, you’ll have the benefit of a thorough investigation of not just the offense but also collateral information that can be persuasively wielded for you at sentencing time.

Earning Credit Time during Indiana Sentences

Your conduct and activities while you are serving your sentence can also have an impact on its length. An incarcerated person’s accrued time is the time served on the sentence. Incarcerated persons can also earn good time credit and educational credit. The sum of accrued time and good time credit is the incarcerated person’s total credit time.

The rate at which good time credit accrues depends on the incarcerated person’s credit time class and is set out in Indiana Code § 35-50-6-3.1:

  • Class A: Earn one day of good time credit for each day serving a sentence or confined awaiting sentencing or trial
  • Class B: Earn one day of good time credit for every three days serving a sentence or confined awaiting sentencing or trial
  • Class C: Earn one day of good time credit for every six days serving a sentence or confined awaiting sentencing or trial
  • Class D: Earns no good time credit
  • Class P: Earn one day of good time credit for every four days on home detention while awaiting trial or to be sentenced; no accrued time is earned

Indiana criminal defense attorneys have a thorough understanding of how credit time accrues and how to address inequities in the calculation and application of credit time to a sentence.

The Indiana Criminal Defense Attorneys at Keffer Hirschauer LLP Fight to Reduce Potential Sentences

A criminal conviction can affect every aspect of your life, sometimes for years. To preserve all you’ve worked hard for and protect your rights, you need experienced Indiana criminal defense attorneys who know how prosecutors and judges approach cases just like yours.

At Keffer Hirschauer LLP, we use the information we learned as former deputy prosecutors and the experience gained in that role and as Indiana criminal defense attorneys to fight for our clients’ rights and protect their freedom and their future. If you have questions about how the Indiana sentencing guidelines might apply in your case or other questions about your criminal matter, learn more at a free consultation with us by calling (317) 857-0160 or complete our online contact form.

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