COA reverses for problem-solving court litigant in sanctions dispute 

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A woman terminated from a problem-solving court for violating its conditions who was then ordered to serve her 16-year sentence received a partial reversal from the Indiana Court of Appeals on Wednesday.

After Tiffany Holsapple was initially convicted of Level 6 felony failure to return to lawful detention and later convicted of Level 2 felony dealing in methamphetamine, the state entered into a plea agreement where Holsapple pleaded guilty as charged in both cases. She was then sentenced to 16 years in the Department of Corrections.

Holsapple’s sentence was stayed, however, so she could have a chance to participate in a problem-solving court. She first went to a drug court and then transferred to a mental health court, but was ultimately terminated from the program when Holsapple failed to appear for a required drug test and mental health court sanctions hearing.

The Madison Circuit Court found that Holsapple violated the conditions of the mental health court as admitted and was no longer eligible to participate in problem solving court. Concluding it had “no discretion whatsoever,” the trial court then imposed what was agreed in the plea agreement, lifting the stay in both causes and ordering Holsapple to serve her 16-year sentence at the DOC.

In a partial reversal, the Indiana Court of Appeals found that although it was never explicitly stated, Holsapple must have been referred to problem solving court as a condition of probation.

Relying on Woods v. State, 892 N.E.2d 637 (Ind. 2008), Sullivan v. State, 56 N.E.3d 1157 (Ind. Ct. App. 2016), and Hampton v. State, 71 N.E.3d 1165 (Ind. Ct. App. 2017), trans. Denied, Holsapple argued that “[t]he language of the plea agreement should not be allowed to strip a court of the discretion as to how to respond to violations.”

“Although it appears Holsapple entered but a single agreement rather than a plea agreement followed by a separate agreement resolving probation revocation proceedings such that the Woods distinction would not apply to her, in essence, the agreement here is two agreements in one: a plea agreement providing for the disposition of the criminal charges through a sentence suspended to probation and a probation revocation agreement providing for strict liability if probation is violated,” Judge Margret Robb wrote for the appellate court.

“And pursuant to the authority of Woods, Sullivan, and Hampton, an agreement cannot override the trial court’s discretion in that way in a probation revocation or similar proceeding,” it concluded.

Although it affirmed the finding that Holsapple violated the terms of her placement, the appellate panel also found that contrary to the trial court’s belief that it was required to impose the agreed-upon sanction of full execution of the stayed sentence, a plea agreement couldn’t bind the trial court’s hands as to an appropriate sanction.

“Rather, as in any probation revocation proceeding, the trial court may impose one or more sanctions, including ordering execution of all or part of the sentence that was suspended at the time of initial sentencing,” it wrote. “Accordingly, we reverse the trial court’s order that Holsapple serve the entire sixteen-year-sentence because it is based on the predetermined sanction and remand for the trial court to determine in its discretion the appropriate sanction for her violations.”

The appellate court therefore affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded in the case of Tiffany Holsapple v. State of Indiana,19A-CR-2069.

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