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Divided court affirms sentence that exceeds statutory authority

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A man who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges and whose sentence exceeded statutory authority must nonetheless serve the term, a divided Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

Travis Koontz was charged with misdemeanor false informing, driving while suspended, and operating a vehicle while intoxicated. He pleaded guilty to the latter two charges and agreed to a sentence of 365 days in jail with 18 days to be executed and 365 days of probation for the Class B misdemeanor driving while suspended conviction, along with 60 days in jail with 18 days to be executed and 365 days of probation for the Class C misdemeanor drunken-driving conviction. The sentences were to run concurrently.

Though the maximum sentence for a Class B misdemeanor is 180 days and the maximum term for any misdemeanor is one year, two of the three judges ruled that the plea agreement between Koontz and the state prevailed.

“Concluding that Koontz waived any error in his sentence by consenting to the sentence as part of a plea agreement, we affirm,” Chief Judge Margret Robb wrote in Travis Koontz v. State of Indiana,  29A05-1202-CR-77. Judge Cale Bradford joined in the opinion.

But Judge John Baker wrote that had Koontz gone to trial and been convicted, at least one of the initial charges against him would have constituted double-jeopardy, and that Koontz received no benefit from the plea agreement.

“I acknowledge that our Supreme Court has made it clear that “[a] defendant ‘may not enter a plea agreement calling for an illegal sentence, benefit from that sentence, and then later complain that it was an illegal sentence.’” Lee v. State, 816 N.E.2d 35, 40 (Ind. 2004) (quoting Collins v. State, 509 N.E.2d 827, 833 (Ind. 1987)),” Baker wrote.

“The practical effect is that only the charge of class B misdemeanor false informing was dismissed pursuant to the plea agreement. Nevertheless, Koontz was exposed to a combined term of imprisonment and probation that exceeded statutory limits. Accordingly, in cases where the offenses are misdemeanors or minor felonies, the potential for abuse could be too great to justify permitting the imposition of illegal sentences through plea agreements. Therefore, I would reverse,” Baker wrote.

But the majority found that Koontz had benefited from the plea deal and appealed the sentence only after he violated terms of probation and was ordered to serve 240 days in jail.

“Had the trial court had discretion in sentencing Koontz, he could have received a sentence of up to one year imprisonment, and by virtue of the plea, he was to serve only eighteen days. The dissent believes that ‘where the offenses are misdemeanors or minor felonies,’ … the potential for abuse is too great and the benefit too small to justify allowing an illegal sentence to stand because it was the result of a plea bargain. We do not believe it is our place to categorically declare the Supreme Court’s position inapplicable to misdemeanors,” the opinion states.

 

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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