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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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