Judges disagree on impact of caselaw

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In a man’s appeal of the denial of petition for post-conviction relief, in which he claimed ineffective assistance of his trial and appellate counsel, the Indiana Court of Appeals was divided on whether his appellate counsel was ineffective and if caselaw prevented the trial court from considering charges outside of the guilty plea.

Curtis Bethea and several other people, including a minor female, tricked their way into the home of Angela Dailey and Jason Gates. Bethea and the others then confined the victims and robbed them. The victims were also injured in the course of the robbery. Bethea was charged with nine counts, but pleaded guilty to Class B felony robbery of one victim and Class B felony confinement of the other victim.

The judge sentenced Bethea to 40 years total, citing, among other things, Bethea’s criminal past, the teen’s involvement in the crime, the injury to a victim, and prior attempts at rehabilitation had failed. He appealed, and the sentence was upheld.

Bethea filed for post-conviction relief, alleging his trial counsel was ineffective because he failed to offer evidence that would have undermined the trial court’s findings about the use of a juvenile in the commission of the crime. With regards to the appellate counsel, Bethea argued that he failed to cogently challenge the aggravating factors found by the trial court and also should have challenged the appropriateness of the sentence pursuant to Indiana Appellate Rule 7(B). The post-conviction relief petition was denied.

In Curtis A. Bethea v. State of Indiana, No. 18A05-1107-PC-416, the appellate panel agreed that Bethea’s trial counsel wasn’t ineffective, but they split with regards to the appellate counsel. Bethea had argued that the injury to the victim shouldn’t have been considered in sentencing him because that was an element of a charge that was dismissed pursuant to the plea agreement. He cited Farmer v. State, 772 N.E.2d 1025 (Ind. Ct. App. 2002), and Roney v. State, 872 N.E.2d 192 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007) – which are based on Carlson v. State, 716 N.E.2d 469 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999) – in support.

Judge Terry Crone believed Farmer and Roney stretched the rule in Carlson too far. Carlson held that when a defendant pleads guilty to a lesser-included offense, the trial court could not use the distinguishing element that would otherwise elevate the offense as an aggravating factor. Farmer extended that to hold that trial courts may not use any other facts or circumstances pertaining to charges that are dismissed pursuant to a plea agreement as aggravating factors. Roney extended this concept still further by holding that when a plea agreement is entered, the trial court cannot consider charged or uncharged criminal conduct as an aggravating factor.

“Taken to their logical conclusion, Farmer and Roney would result in prohibiting trial courts from considering conduct admitted by the defendant, conduct that was unknown to the State at the time the plea agreement was entered, or conduct that was not part of the same episode of criminal conduct. These restrictions have no basis in Indiana law,” Crone wrote.

The majority found that although the appellate counsel overlooked sentencing factors that could have been challenged as abuse of discretion or pursuant to Appellate Rule 7(B), Bethea wasn’t prejudiced.

Judge Melissa May concurred in result, in which she upheld the sentence, but she doesn’t share Crone’s position that Farmer and Roney misapplied precedent and should not be followed. Judge Elaine Brown dissented as to the effectiveness of the appellate counsel, finding Bethea met his burden on this issue and she would resentence him accordingly.



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  1. I commend Joe for standing up to this tyrant attorney! You ask why? Well I’m one of David Steele victims. I was in desperate need of legal help to protect my child, David saw an opportunity, and he demanded I pay him $3000. Cash. As I received motions and orders from court he did nothing! After weeks of emails asking him to address the legal issues, he responded by saying he was “on vacation “and I should be so lucky to have “my attorney” reply. Finally after lie on top of lie I asked for a full refund, which he refused. He then sent me “bills” for things he never did, such as, his appearance in the case and later claimed he withdrew. He never filed one document / motion for my case! When I finally demanded he refund my money he then turn to threats which scared my family for our lives. It seem unreal we couldn’t believe this guy. I am now over $100,000 in debt digging out of the legal mess he caused my family. Later I was finally able to hire another law office. I met Joe and we worked diligently on my case. I soon learn Joe had a passion for helping people. As anyone who has been through a legal battle it is exhausting. Joe was always more than happy to help or address an issue. Joe was knowledgeable about all my concerns at the same time he was able to reduce the stress and anxieties of my case. He would stay late and come in early, he always went the extra mile to help in any way he could. I can only imagine what Joe and his family has been through, my prayers go out to him and all the victims.

  2. Steele did more than what is listed too. He purposely sought out to ruin me, calling potential employers and then lied about me alleging all kinds of things including kidnapping. None of his allegations were true. If you are in need of an ethical and very knowledgeable family law paralegal, perhaps someone could post their contact information. Ethics cannot be purchased, either your paralegal has them or they do not.

  3. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  4. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  5. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise