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Indiana Supreme Court Reduces 30-Year Prison Sentence to 23-Year Community Corrections Placement in Rare Case

by Chad Marks

In August 2013, Lisa Livingston was arrested for various drug charges involving 3.35 grams of methamphetamine and one baggie of cocaine weighing 1.89 grams.

Livingston posted a $75,000 property bond and was released from jail. Part of the conditions of Livingston’s release was that she reside at the Bliss House, a substance abuse recovery home. Over the next four years, Livingston’s trial was continued, and she changed the trajectory of her life. She lived in the Bliss House for one year and moved to its transitional house for two years.

Over the course of four years, Livingston served as a chairperson of the Bliss House alumni. She also was on the Bliss House Committee for two years. In 2014, along with her nephew, Livingston started her own business. This provided her with the money necessary to open Break Away Home – a home for woman recovering from addiction.

On October 30, 2017, Livingston, absent a plea agreement, accepted responsibility for all of her charges, including being an habitual substance offender. On March 12, 2018, the court held a sentencing hearing in which Livingston requested she be permitted to serve whatever sentence the court imposed in community corrections. The court rejected that request and subsequently sentenced her to 30 years imprisonment to be served in the Department of Corrections.

Livingston appealed the 30-year term arguing that the court abused its discretion in the sentencing decision. The Court of Appeals affirmed the sentencing decision, declining to revisit the sentence.

The Supreme Court of Indiana took up the case finding it was an exceptional one. The Court revised Livingston’s sentence to 23 years after finding that she committed no offenses since her arrest in August 2013 and that she dedicated her time to becoming a productive member of her community and helping others who suffer from addiction.

The Indiana Constitution, Article 7, Section 4, grants an appellate court the power to revise a sentence in a criminal case. Appellate Rule 7(B) also allows such if a court finds “that a sentence is inappropriate in light of the nature of the offense, and character of the offender.” In addition, the Rule permits the court to determine the place where a sentence is to be served. Biddinger v. State, 864 N.E.2d 407, (Ind. 2007).

The Court, relying on both the Indiana Constitution and case law, revised Livingston’s sentence to a term of 23 years to be served in community corrections. The Court also looked to Ind. Code § 35-32-1-1 (5), (6), which states that courts are to construe the criminal code “in accordance with its general purposes, to ... reduce crime by promoting the use of evidence based best practices for rehabilitation of offenders in a community setting” and “keep dangerous prisoners in prison by avoiding the use of scarce prison space for nonviolent offenders.”

The Court determined that the initial sentence imposed in this case was inappropriate in light of Livingston’s offenses and character. Here, she clearly was on the path of rehabilitation, and the 30-year term of imprisonment was uncalled for, ruled the Court.

Accordingly, the Court remanded the case to the trial court to issue a revised sentencing order consistent with its opinion. See: Livingston v. State, 113 N.E.3d 611 (Ind. 2018). 

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Related legal case

Livingston v. State



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