Because enhancement vacatur altered sentence, COA vacates plea agreement

February 27, 2015

Because removing a defendant’s habitual offender enhancement altered the sentence the parties had bargained for, the Indiana Court of Appeals ordered the trial court to vacate the entire plea agreement.

The state appealed the Floyd Circuit Court’s decision to grant John J. Arnold’s request to vacate his habitual offender enhancement after he entered into a plea agreement to three counts of Class C felony criminal recklessness as well as the habitual offender enhancement. He agreed to concurrent sentences of eight years on the felony counts and a sentence enhancement of 12 years for being a habitual offender. The enhancement was attached to all three convictions.

Arnold was charged with Class A felony and other counts related to an incident in 2012 in which he drove his truck and hit or ran over three people and then fled the scene.

Shortly after he was sentenced, one of the felonies that served as a basis to enhance his sentence was vacated. Arnold then filed to set aside the habitual offender enhancement. Without this previous conviction, there was not enough to support the habitual offender enhancement. The trial court granted his request, but the state argued on appeal that the entire plea agreement needed to be set aside.

Arnold’s motion to set aside the habitual offender enhancement, while not filed through post-conviction channels, will be treated as a request for post-conviction relief, the COA decided in State of Indiana v. John J. Arnold, 22A05-1408-CR-387.

The vacatur of Arnold’s habitual offender enhancement impermissibly alters the sentence for the conviction to which the enhancement was attached and therefore that conviction must also be vacated, pursuant to Boykin v. State, 702 N.E.2d 1105 (Ind. Ct. App. 1998), Judge Terry Crone wrote. But the plea agreement erroneously attached the enhancement to all three convictions, instead of just one.

Crone pointed out also that the state only agreed to the plea deal once Arnold agreed to accept the sentence enhancement of 12 years. The state said it would not have entered the deal if Arnold would only receive 8 years total for the convictions.

“We cannot say that the State would have entered the agreement without the habitual offender enhancement. We conclude that the habitual offender enhancement cannot be eliminated without frustrating the basic purpose of the contract,” Crone wrote.

The COA affirmed the decision to vacate Arnold’s habitual offender enhancement, reversed its decision to keep the remainder of the plea agreement intact and remanded with instructions to vacate the agreement and its resulting convictions and for further proceedings.


Recent Articles by Jennifer Nelson