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COA: Man’s sentence after guilty plea is illegal

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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a man’s 10-year sentence resulting from a guilty plea for abusing his adopted teenaged children, holding that the sentence was based on an incorrect application of I.C. 35-50-1-2.

Larry Russell faced multiple felony charges for the severe neglect and abuse of his children over the course of three months, but agreed to plead guilty to five counts of neglect of a dependent as Class C felonies and two counts of Class C felony criminal confinement in exchange for the dismissal of the four remaining counts.  

The plea agreement left sentencing up to the judge, but capped it at 10 years pursuant to I.C. 35-50-1-2(c). The judge, bound by the agreement, limited his sentence to 10 years, although based on the sentencing statement, would have handed down a longer sentence.

The Court of Appeals reversed his sentence in Larry D. Russell, Jr. v. State of Indiana, 84A01-1312-CR-532, because it was based on an erroneous application of the statute. His offenses do not constitute an “episode” subject to the limitations imposed by that statute. Based on these facts, the sentence imposed contravened the statute and is an illegal sentence, Judge Edward Najam wrote.

“Here, the parties attempt to treat the ten-year sentence as severable. But sentencing is a material element of every plea agreement, and we cannot say either that Russell would have pleaded guilty under the plea agreement without the ten-year cap on his sentence or that the State would have agreed to the terms of the plea agreement without its erroneous understanding of Indiana Code Section 35-50-1-2,” he continued. And the sentencing statement indicates that, but for the statutory limitation, the trial court would have sentenced Russell to 24 years executed.

“While we acknowledge the local prosecutor’s discretion in such matters, there is no question that this case is exactly the type of case that the State should be expending its time and resources prosecuting. And we cannot sanction an illegal sentence. While we respect the consideration that the victims should be spared the burden of testifying at trial, this concern does not justify enforcement of an illegal agreement,” Najam wrote.

The judges remanded to the trial court for Russell to have the option to proceed with the current plea agreement without the illegal sentencing limitation. If he goes that route, the judges noted he would face a possible maximum sentence of 56 years. If Russell doesn’t exercise that option within 30 days after this decision was been certified, then the plea agreement shall be vacated.
 

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  1. Welcome to Hendricks County where local and state statutes (especially Indiana Class C misdemeanors) are given a higher consideration than Federal statues and active duty military call-ups.

  2. If real money was spent on this study, what a shame. And if some air-head professor tries to use this to advance a career, pity the poor student. I am approaching a time that i (and others around me) should be vigilant. I don't think I'm anywhere near there yet, but seeing the subject I was looking forward to something I might use to look for some benchmarks. When finally finding my way to the hidden questionnaire all I could say to myself was...what a joke. Those are open and obvious signs of any impaired lawyer (or non-lawyer, for that matter), And if one needs a checklist to discern those tell-tale signs of impairment at any age, one shouldn't be practicing law. Another reason I don't regret dropping my ABA membership some number of years ago.

  3. The case should have been spiked. Give the kid a break. He can serve and maybe die for Uncle Sam and can't have a drink? Wow. And they won't even let him defend himself. What a gross lack of prosecutorial oversight and judgment. WOW

  4. I work with some older lawyers in the 70s, 80s, and they are sharp as tacks compared to the foggy minded, undisciplined, inexperienced, listless & aimless "youths" being churned out by the diploma mill law schools by the tens of thousands. A client is generally lucky to land a lawyer who has decided to stay in practice a long time. Young people shouldn't kid themselves. Experience is golden especially in something like law. When you start out as a new lawyer you are about as powerful as a babe in the cradle. Whereas the silver halo of age usually crowns someone who can strike like thunder.

  5. YES I WENT THROUGH THIS BEFORE IN A DIFFERENT SITUATION WITH MY YOUNGEST SON PEOPLE NEED TO LEAVE US ALONE WITH DCS IF WE ARE NOT HURTING OR NEGLECT OUR CHILDREN WHY ARE THEY EVEN CALLED OUT AND THE PEOPLE MAKING FALSE REPORTS NEED TO GO TO JAIL AND HAVE A CLASS D FELONY ON THERE RECORD TO SEE HOW IT FEELS. I WENT THREW ALOT WHEN HE WAS TAKEN WHAT ELSE DOES THESE SCHOOL WANT ME TO SERVE 25 YEARS TO LIFE ON LIES THERE TELLING OR EVEN LE SAME THING LIED TO THE COUNTY PROSECUTOR JUST SO I WOULD GET ARRESTED AND GET TIME HE THOUGHT AND IT TURNED OUT I DID WHAT I HAD TO DO NOT PROUD OF WHAT HAPPEN AND SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SEEKING MEDICAL ATTENTION FOR MY CHILD I AM DISABLED AND SICK OF GETTING TREATED BADLY HOW WOULD THEY LIKE IT IF I CALLED APS ON THEM FOR A CHANGE THEN THEY CAN COME AND ARREST THEM RIGHT OUT OF THE SCHOOL. NOW WE ARE HOMELESS AND THE CHILDREN ARE STAYING WITH A RELATIVE AND GUARDIAN AND THE SCHOOL WON'T LET THEM GO TO SCHOOL THERE BUT WANT THEM TO GO TO SCHOOL WHERE BULLYING IS ALLOWED REAL SMART THINKING ON A SCHOOL STAFF.

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