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Entering a guilty plea is not a mitigating factor, COA rules

May 7, 2013

Although a Shelby County man successfully argued that signing an “Advisement of Rights and Waiver” document did not bar him from appealing his sentence, he failed to convince the Indiana Court of Appeals that the trial court abused its discretion when sentencing him.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the aggregate sentence of 25 years executed and five years suspended in Ryan Westlake v. State of Indiana, 73A01-1209-CR-433.

Ryan Westlake had entered a plea agreement, pleading guilty to Class A felony child molesting and Class B felony sexual misconduct with a minor, in exchange for having four other charges dismissed. As a mitigating factor, he pointed to his mental health issues.

However, in imposing the sentence, the trial court found the mitigating factor was equally countered by the aggravating factors of his criminal and juvenile record.

Westlake appealed, arguing the trial court abused its discretion because it did not use his guilty plea as a mitigating factor.

The state submitted that Westlake waived his right to appeal these issues because he signed the “Advisement of Rights and Waiver” document. This form was submitted to the court along with Westlake’s plea agreement.

The COA found that although Westlake waived his right to challenge his sentence pursuant to Indiana Appellate Rule 7(B), the waiver provision does not specifically address abuse of discretion claims. Consequently, the court concluded that Westlake did not waive his abuse of discretion claim.

Still, the Court of Appeals ruled the trial court did not abuse its discretion. The COA noted Westlake gained a “substantial benefit” by pleading guilty because four additional charges were dismissed, three of which were felonies. In addition, Westlake admitted to having sexual intercourse with the two underage victims multiple times.


 

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