INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that a Porter County judge exceeded his authority by doubling a Gary woman's prison sentence after she failed to turn herself in at the county jail.
Hakimah Qualls, 36, was convicted of escape, battery and operating while intoxicated, all felonies, in connection with a Sept. 19, 2015 drunken driving incident along U.S. 12 in the town of Porter, according to court records.
Porter Superior Judge Roger Bradford initially sentenced Qualls on Feb. 26, 2018 to a total of three years in prison and three years on probation for all three convictions, and ordered Qualls to surrender herself at the county jail on March 5.
On that day, records show Qualls asked for an extra week to get her affairs in order before going to jail. Bradford granted her request.
But when Qualls' attorney on March 12 asked for even more time, the judge denied the request and issued a warrant for Qualls' arrest.
She was picked up March 20.
Court records show that the prosecuting attorney — "apparently irritated by Qualls' behavior" — asked Bradford to rescind his earlier sentence for Qualls and impose a longer prison term.
He held a resentencing hearing on April 17 where he first denied Qualls' request to have an attorney present during the hearing, and then ordered her to serve six full years in prison.
The appeals court, in its 3 to 0 ruling, said Bradford's decision to deny Qualls' request for counsel was "clearly improper" under the U.S. Constitution's right to counsel guarantee for criminal defendants.
"Sentencing is a critical stage of the proceedings at which a defendant is entitled to representation by counsel," wrote Judge Paul Mathias for the appellate court.
Beyond the denial of counsel, which the court said alone would be sufficient justification to reverse Qualls' sentence, the appellate judges said the need was even greater given Bradford's decision to resentence her at all.
The appeals court observed that after a criminal sentence is pronounced, jurisdiction over the defendant is transferred to the Indiana Department of Correction.
"In the present case, the trial court cited no statutory authority for its alteration of its original sentencing order, and we are aware of none," Mathias said. "Nor did the trial court's original sentencing order reserve any authority to modify the sentence at a later date."
"Accordingly, we agree with Qualls and the state that the trial court exceeded its authority when it revised Qualls' original sentence."
The appeals court directed Bradford to issue a new sentencing order that matches the original prison term he imposed on Qualls: three years at the Department of Correction and three years on probation.