Statute, plea agreement do not preclude converting felony to misdemeanor

August 2, 2016

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court’s decision to reduce a man’s Class D felony conviction following a guilty plea to theft in 2000 to a Class A misdemeanor 15 years later.

Wallace Irvin Smith III pleaded guilty to theft in July 2000. As part of his plea agreement, he was “precluded from asking for Misdemeanor treatment in this cause.” He served one year of probation and was discharged from it in 2002. In May 2015, he petitioned the trial court to convert his conviction of Class D felony theft to a Class A misdemeanor under Indiana Code 35-50-2-7(d)(2014). The state objected, but the trial court granted the petition.

The state argued that the trial court did not have the authority to apply the 2014 statute retroactively in order to modify Smith’s conviction to a misdemeanor. But the statutory language indicated the Legislature intended for that section to apply retroactively, Judge Melissa May wrote. She noted that prior to 2012, trial courts had to convert the Class D felony conviction to a Class A misdemeanor when handing down the sentence. In 2012, the Legislature added language to the statute that allows the court to convert the felony conviction after receiving a verified petition and conducting a hearing in which the prosecuting attorney has been notified. The 2014 amendment to the statute just added language for the new felony level structure.

Thus, under the new statute, trial courts could modify convictions and sentences already entered and the legislative intent remained the same with the 2014 statute.

The COA also found Smith’s plea agreement didn’t prevent the trial court from acting because the language of the agreement foreclosed only those remedies known at the time the agreement was entered. The plea agreement didn’t preclude modification of Smith’s sentence under the 2014 statute because that section didn’t exist when the agreement was made, May wrote.

“As a trial court could not have changed a Class D felony to a Class A misdemeanor after sentencing at the time the plea agreement was entered, the parties could not have contemplated the term ‘Misdemeanor treatment’ could mean conversion after the original sentencing,” she wrote in State of Indiana v. Wallace Irvin Smith, III, 45A05-1507-CR-945.


Recent Articles by Jennifer Nelson