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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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  2. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  3. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  4. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  5. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

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