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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. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  2. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  3. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  4. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  5. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

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