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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 can understand a 10 yr suspension for drinking and driving and not following the rules,but don't you think the people who compleate their sentences and are trying to be good people of their community,and are on the right path should be able to obtain a drivers license to do as they please.We as a state should encourage good behavior instead of saying well you did all your time but we can't give you a license come on.When is a persons time served than cause from where I'm standing,its still a punishment,when u can't have the freedom to go where ever you want to in car,truck ,motorcycle,maybe their should be better programs for people instead of just throwing them away like daily trash,then expecting them to change because they we in jail or prison for x amount of yrs.Everyone should look around because we all pay each others bills,and keep each other in business..better knowledge equals better community equals better people...just my 2 cents

  2. I was wondering about the 6 million put aside for common attorney fees?does that mean that if you are a plaintiff your attorney fees will be partially covered?

  3. I expressed my thought in the title, long as it was. I am shocked that there is ever immunity from accountability for ANY Government agency. That appears to violate every principle in the US Constitution, which exists to limit Government power and to ensure Government accountability. I don't know how many cases of legitimate child abuse exist, but in the few cases in which I knew the people involved, in every example an anonymous caller used DCS as their personal weapon to strike at innocent people over trivial disagreements that had no connection with any facts. Given that the system is vulnerable to abuse, and given the extreme harm any action by DCS causes to families, I would assume any degree of failure to comply with the smallest infraction of personal rights would result in mandatory review. Even one day of parent-child separation in the absence of reasonable cause for a felony arrest should result in severe penalties to those involved in the action. It appears to me, that like all bureaucracies, DCS is prone to interpret every case as legitimate. This is not an accusation against DCS. It is a statement about the nature of bureaucracies, and the need for ADDED scrutiny of all bureaucratic actions. Frankly, I question the constitutionality of bureaucracies in general, because their power is delegated, and therefore unaccountable. No Government action can be unaccountable if we want to avoid its eventual degeneration into irrelevance and lawlessness, and the law of the jungle. Our Constitution is the source of all Government power, and it is the contract that legitimizes all Government power. To the extent that its various protections against intrusion are set aside, so is the power afforded by that contract. Eventually overstepping the limits of power eliminates that power, as a law of nature. Even total tyranny eventually crumbles to nothing.

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