COA finds plea agreement was not circumvented by admission of uncharged conduct at sentencing

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A convicted child molester’s argument that the trial court abused its discretion by admitting during sentencing the testimony of two other alleged victims was rejected by the Indiana Court of Appeals. The court described the appellant’s contention as “pure conjecture supported by nothing in the record.”

The COA affirmed the judgment of the trial court in Clinton Couch v. State of Indiana, No. 48A04-1204-CR-181.  

Couch, 28, befriended 13-year-old D.K., giving assurance that he wanted to be a big brother. However, over the course of several months, Couch molested D.K., took pornographic photographs of him, subjected him to physical violence, and threatened to make him disappear.

On Feb. 27, 2012, in exchange for not filing charges related to other alleged victims who had come forward, Couch pleaded guilty to five counts of Class A felony child molesting, Class C felony child exploitation and Class D felony possession of child pornography.

During the sentencing hearing, two other alleged victims, J.M. and A.B., testified for the state. The trial court did not find this testimony as an aggravating circumstance, instead citing Couch’s violation of trust, the repeated sexual assaults, the pattern of depravity, and that the victim will spend the rest of his life reliving from time to time these assaults.

Couch was sentenced to 40 years of incarceration for each child molesting conviction, eight years for child exploitation, and three years for possession of child pornography. The trial court ordered child molesting Counts I through III to be served concurrently with one another but consecutive to Counts IV and V, which would also be served concurrently with one another. It also ordered the child exploitation sentence to be served consecutively to the child molesting sentences and the possession of child pornography sentenced to be served consecutively with the others. All together, Couch has an aggregate sentence of 91 years. His earliest release date is Sept. 20, 2057.

On appeal, Couch argued that the admission of J.M.’s and A.B.’s testimony amounted to a circumvention of his plea agreement because the trial court allegedly used their testimony to enhance his sentences and order some of them to be served consecutively.

He cited Roney v. State, 872 N.E.2d 192,201 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007) which found if a trial court accepts a plea agreement under which the state agrees to drop or not file charges and then uses facts that give rise to those charges to enhance a sentence, it, in effect, circumvents the plea agreement.

The COA, however, ruled that Couch failed to establish that the trial court abused its discretion. Specifically, the trial court did not find that Couch’s uncharged conduct was an aggravating circumstance that led to enhanced and consecutive sentences. In fact, the lower court did not even mention it in imposing sentence.



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  1. I commend Joe for standing up to this tyrant attorney! You ask why? Well I’m one of David Steele victims. I was in desperate need of legal help to protect my child, David saw an opportunity, and he demanded I pay him $3000. Cash. As I received motions and orders from court he did nothing! After weeks of emails asking him to address the legal issues, he responded by saying he was “on vacation “and I should be so lucky to have “my attorney” reply. Finally after lie on top of lie I asked for a full refund, which he refused. He then sent me “bills” for things he never did, such as, his appearance in the case and later claimed he withdrew. He never filed one document / motion for my case! When I finally demanded he refund my money he then turn to threats which scared my family for our lives. It seem unreal we couldn’t believe this guy. I am now over $100,000 in debt digging out of the legal mess he caused my family. Later I was finally able to hire another law office. I met Joe and we worked diligently on my case. I soon learn Joe had a passion for helping people. As anyone who has been through a legal battle it is exhausting. Joe was always more than happy to help or address an issue. Joe was knowledgeable about all my concerns at the same time he was able to reduce the stress and anxieties of my case. He would stay late and come in early, he always went the extra mile to help in any way he could. I can only imagine what Joe and his family has been through, my prayers go out to him and all the victims.

  2. Steele did more than what is listed too. He purposely sought out to ruin me, calling potential employers and then lied about me alleging all kinds of things including kidnapping. None of his allegations were true. If you are in need of an ethical and very knowledgeable family law paralegal, perhaps someone could post their contact information. Ethics cannot be purchased, either your paralegal has them or they do not.

  3. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  4. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  5. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise