Court must reconsider sanction for probation violations

An Indiana trial court must revisit the sanction it imposed pursuant to an agreement on a Washington County woman who violated her probation. The Indiana Court of Appeals held Monday that the trial court had discretion to determine what the appropriate sanction should be.

In Derrian N. Hampton v. State of Indiana, 88A04-1608-CR-1862, Derrian Hampton pleaded guilty to Class C felony aiding burglary and was sentenced to three years in the Indiana Department of Correction, with one year and 185 days suspended to probation. A year after her sentencing, the state moved to revoke Hampton’s probation, alleging that she had violated various aspects of her probation.

A subsequent agreement between Hampton and the state, tendered to the Washington Superior Court in November 2015, stayed her commitment in the DOC until a June 2016 review hearing. If Hampton met all of her monetary obligations and completed all probation terms by the time of the hearing, the Agreement held that she would not have to serve her suspended sentence in the DOC and instead would return to probation subject to the original terms. The agreement also held that the trial court could not change its terms without consent from both parties.

When it came time to appear for the hearing, Hampton still had not fulfilled her monetary obligations and had also failed to call the drug screen line on occasion, so the trial court ordered her to serve her 550-day suspended sentence, less credit time. The judge also denied her “Motion to Correct Error Alternatively Motion to Reconsider,” prompting the instant appeal.

On appeal, Hampton argued that the trial court abused its discretion in approving the agreement because it improperly shifted the burden to her to show future compliance and removed judicial discretion with regard to sentencing for her probation violations. But Judge James Kirsch, writing for the unanimous appellate panel, held in a Monday opinion that Hampton’s appeal of the November 2015 approval of the agreement was untimely.

After the agreement was approved in November 2015, Kirsch wrote that it became an order of the court imposing the 550-day sanction for probation violation. However, Hampton did not file a notice of appeal or motion to correct error within 30 days of the agreement becoming an order, thus forfeiting her right to direct appeal. But, the trial court’s subsequent actions are still reviewable because Hampton filed an appeal of the denial of her Motion to Correct Error Alternatively Motion to Reconsider within 30 days, Kirsch said.

Although the appellate panel “appreciated” the trial court’s reasoning as to why it had to impose the 550-day sanction – that is, because the agreement did not grant the judge the authority to change its contents – Kirsch wrote that such reasoning “is not in accord with Indiana law.”

Trial courts retain continuing authority over their own orders during probationary periods, Kirsch wrote, so the Washington Circuit Court was required to determine the appropriate sanction to impose against Hampton under the Indiana Supreme Court’s direction in Woods v. State, 892 N.E.2d 637 (Ind. 2008). That case found that agreements that purported to remove a trial court’s sanctioning discretion were “constitutionally suspect.” The Indiana Court of Appeals reached a similar conclusion in Sullivan v. State, 56 N.E.3d 1157 (Ind. Ct. App. 2016).

In the instant case, the state argued that the agreement with Hampton was similar to a plea agreement, but Kirsch wrote that such an argument was rejected in Woods. Thus, while the Washington Superior Court correctly found that Hampton violated the terms of her probation, the appellate panel reversed the imposition of the 550-day sanction and remanded to case back to the trial court to determine the appropriate sanction.

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