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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. 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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