Divided appeals court reverses work release revocation

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A trial court’s flawed analysis of two points of state law led the majority of an Indiana Court of Appeals panel to reverse an order that vacated a Clark County man’s placement in community corrections work release.

In Michael Flowers v. State of Indiana, 10A01-1703-CR-586, Michael Flowers was placed on work release after he was sentenced in September 2012 for pleading guilty to a charge of Class B felony aggravated battery. He was later placed on work release, but the state moved to revoke the placement in December 2016 after Flowers tested positive for methamphetamine, had repeatedly reported late to work release, and was in arrears in program fees of more than $7,200.

Senior Judge Nicholas South presided at a hearing in January 2017 at which the prosecutor and Flowers’ case manager opposed his placement in community corrections and Flowers’ defender moved for a modification to home incarceration. South ordered Flowers remanded to community corrections.

In February, Clark Circuit Judge Andrew Adams revoked the placement after another hearing. Adams said because community corrections was unwilling to accept Flowers, “I can’t order them to accept him, it’s their program,” and “I don’t have anything but to allow him to serve the remainder of his sentence.”

The court also noted at the February hearing that any court order by a senior judge “can be reviewed by the presiding judge, as well as modified or altered by the presiding judge.”

“This statement equates the role and authority of a senior judge with that of a commissioner or a magistrate, which finds no support in the law,” Judge Elaine Brown wrote for the majority joined by Judge John Baker. “The trial court was, in fact, entitled to revisit Judge South’s order, but not because of his status as a senior judge. Instead, the trial court was permitted to do so by virtue of Ind. Code § 33-23-2-4, which … provides that all courts ‘retain power and control over their judgments for ninety (90) days after rendering the judgments in the same manner and under the same conditions as they retained power and control during the term of court in which the judgments were rendered.’”

Likewise, the COA found the trial court’s analysis— “that its proverbial hands were tied” because community corrections didn’t want to take Flowers, or that the judge’s only option was to order Flowers to serve the remainder of his sentence in the Department of Correction – faulty.

“The trial court was incorrect to believe that it was required to accept the Community Corrections program’s decision to revoke Flowers’s placement,” Brown wrote for the majority. “Instead, the trial court should have treated that decision as a request for the court to revoke Flowers’s placement, which it would have been free to grant or deny.

“It may very well be that the trial court will ultimately arrive at the same determination,” to revoke the placement, Brown wrote. “Nevertheless, we remand so that the trial court can reconsider its decision by making a proper analysis and then enter a new order.”

Judge Patricia Riley dissented and would have affirmed the trial court. She found the appellate majority’s analysis of the trial court’s analysis “wholly irrelevant,” since the trial court had authority to revoke the petition under I.C. 33-23-2-4.

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