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Justices: Evidence of dismissed crimes allowable for post-conviction relief

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A Delaware County man who pleaded guilty to armed robbery and criminal confinement in a deal that dropped seven other felony counts was not improperly denied post-conviction relief when a judge considered evidence of charges that were dismissed, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

“Unless the evidence is forbidden by terms of the plea agreement, the trial court judge may consider all evidence properly before him,” Justice Steven David wrote for the unanimous court in Curtis A. Bethea v. State of Indiana, 18S05-1206-PC-304.

Bethea was one of four people charged in connection with the 2005 burglary of a home in which a male resident was pistol-whipped and bound with duct tape and a female resident was pulled from bed and thrown to the floor as the burglars ransacked the home looking for money and drugs.

The trial court weighed aggravating and mitigating factors and sentenced Bethea to 40 years in prision, the maximum allowable penalty for two Class B felony charges. Delaware Circuit Judge Marianne Vorhees denied post-conviction relief, which was affirmed by the Court of Appeals and upheld in Tuesday’s ruling.

Bethea “claims a trial court cannot aggravate a defendant’s sentence with an essential element of a charge that was dismissed pursuant to a plea agreement,” David wrote. “We hold that the trial court finding that the injury suffered by the victim to be an aggravating factor was proper despite the plea agreement that dismissed that count” of Class A felony burglary resulting in bodily injury.

The court’s ruling also sought to clarify the parameters of plea agreements.

“As Senior Judge (Randall) Shepard wrote recently, ‘a defendant receives the full benefit of his bargain when multiple charges are dismissed in accordance with the agreement.’ Sexton v. State, 968 N.E.2d 837, 841 (Ind. Ct. App. 2012). Our opinion today seeks to clarify this issue for trial courts, and to eliminate the application to guilty pleas with plea agreements.

“Our opinion today does not foreclose the possibility of the Defendant bargaining as to what can and cannot be potential aggravating and mitigating factors. It is well within the purview of contract law, and consequentially … the law as it relates to plea bargains, for the Defendant to bargain and the State to accept a plea bargain that forecloses the possibility of the trial court using enhancements from the underlying charges that were dismissed, or from the original charges from which a lesser included plea is taken. However, if a plea bargain lacks such language, we hold it is not necessary for a trial court to turn a blind eye to the facts of the incident that brought the defendant before them.”

In Bethea, justices rejected arguments of ineffective counsel but concluded that the court erred in stating he had been convicted of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute when he had pleaded guilty to the lesser included offense of possession of cocaine. The error was insignificant, though, David wrote, because it “did not change the fact that Bethea had in fact been convicted of a felony for possessing cocaine, which was also part of a pattern of Bethea’s involvement in criminal activity.”

 

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  • Plea agreements,
    This is BS, if it is not in the plea agreement, then it is out of the plea agreement. The court of appeals needs to review past cases, because this is their decision not mine. IC 35-35-3-3(e) states that if the court accepts a plea agreement, that it shall be bound by its terms and is precluded from imposing any other sentence that called for in the plea agreement. Common sense dictates that consideration of dismissed charges cannot be used to enhance a sentence. This is the reason every person arrested needs to demand a jury trial. More than 90% of convictions are by plea agreement that is how often the prosecution doesn't have enough evidence to get a conviction. Do not let prosecutors intimi9date you with threats that they can't back up!

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  1. 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

  2. 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!!!

  3. 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.

  4. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

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