Appellate court upholds revocation of home detention following failed drug test

Editor’s note: This article has been updated.

A man who violated the terms of his plea agreement within one month of sentencing has failed to convince the Court of Appeals of Indiana that the trial court erred in revoking his placement on home detention in favor of an executed sentence.

In Gregory Wayne Puckett v. State of Indiana, 21A-CR-962, appellant-defendant Gregory Puckett was sentenced to six years after pleading guilty to Level 5 felony domestic battery resulting in injury to a pregnant family member. Two years of his sentence was to be served on home detention while the other four were suspended to probation.

As part of his plea deal, Puckett agreed not to possess or use a controlled substance. However, he failed a drug test one month after sentencing.

Thus, a community corrections officer filed a petition for revocation of Puckett’s home detention. But Puckett responded with a motion to dismiss, arguing that under Indiana Code § 35-38-2.6-5, only the community corrections director could file a revocation petition.

The Harrison Superior Court disagreed and revoked Puckett’s home detention, ordering him to serve the remainder of the two-year term in the Indiana Department of Correction.

The Court of Appeals upheld that decision on Thursday.

“In short, the statute informs community corrections directors and prosecutors respectively what their options are for addressing placement violations,” Judge Derek Molter wrote for the unanimous appellate panel. “What the statute does not do is purport to limit the authority of community corrections directors and prosecutors to act through others.

“For example, the State points out — and Puckett does not seem to disagree — that nobody would seriously suggest that subsection (b) limits revocation requests to prosecutors to the exclusion of deputy prosecutors, even though there is no separate statute authorizing deputy prosecutors to act on behalf of prosecutors for revocation requests,” Molter continued. “… The same reasoning applies to community corrections directors. The statute gives them tools for addressing placement violations. It does not prohibit them from acting through other court services officers, and the trial court’s unchallenged finding here was that the community corrections service officer who filed the petition was acting on behalf of the director.”

The COA also disagreed with Puckett’s argument that the Rule of Lenity applied to his case.

“… (T)he rule applies only when ambiguity remains after consulting traditional canons of statutory construction,” Molter wrote. “… Here, as explained above, there is no such ambiguity.”

Finally, the appellate court rejected Puckett’s argument that even if there was no statutory violation, the trial court still abused its discretion by revoking his home detention.

“But Puckett ignores that he failed a drug test just one month after he was sentenced — after the trial court had earlier warned him that a rules violation would result in incarceration — and he fails to acknowledge his criminal record, which was extensive,” Molter concluded. “Puckett also overlooks that the trial court exercised some leniency by ordering him to be incarcerated only for the remaining term of his home detention placement, not the four years of his sentence suspended to traditional placement.

“Under these circumstances, we cannot say the trial court’s sanction was an abuse of discretion.”

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