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COA: Trial court lacked authority to rescind plea agreement

March 12, 2015

The Indiana Court of Appeals ordered a Howard Superior judge to sentence a man to the terms of the plea agreement that he had entered into on drug charges before the judge revoked the agreement and ordered him to continue to trial.

Bryan Stone was charged with four counts of Class A felony dealing in cocaine and alleged to be a habitual offender. He entered into a plea agreement with the state, which the trial court accepted, in which Stone would plead guilty to four counts of Class B felony dealing in cocaine and the habitual substance offender enhancement would be discharged. He would be sentenced to 20 years, 15 of that executed and five years suspended to probation.

But after Stone failed to appear for a presentencing investigation, Judge William Menges sua sponte stated that he rejected the plea agreement. Menges set the matter for trial over Stone’s objections. Stone was convicted as charged and sentenced to 45 years.

In Bryan P. Stone v. State of Indiana, 34A02-1410-CR-753, the state argued that even though Stone did not violate any of the express terms of his agreement or claim actual innocence, thus justifying the judge’s decision to vacate the plea, the court could still vacate the plea agreement. It alleged that Stone’s participation in the plea agreement was a “sham” and he did not intend to honor it since he did not attend the initial presentencing investigation. That indicates that he would freely violate probation and commit new criminal offense, the state claimed.

“While the trial court may have rejected a plea had Stone engaged in misconduct prior to his guilty plea hearing, the fact remains that Stone’s purported misconduct occurred after he had admitted to four criminal offenses in open court. What the trial court may have done with other knowledge is not relevant here, as Indiana courts have held since (Reffet v. State, 571 N.E.2d 1227, 1229-30 (Ind. 1991)). Further, the terms of the plea agreement here did not require Stone to satisfy all the terms of his probation, or seem likely to do so, lest the plea agreement be rescinded and the State take him to a jury trial. The terms of the plea agreement make no provision for this, and accepting the State’s rationale on this point would risk rendering thousands of plea agreements void, even years later, as a result of probation violations,” Judge L. Mark Bailey wrote.

The COA ordered the lower court to enter judgments of conviction pursuant to the plea agreement and to sentence Stone within the discretion afforded to it by the plea agreement.

 

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