Community service dropped against Logansport attorney convicted of battery

A northern Indiana lawyer who pleaded guilty to battering his wife has been relieved of a community service condition imposed on his probation.

In October 2017, Logansport attorney James T. Knight was charged with Level 5 felony domestic battery, two counts of Level 5 felony criminal confinement and Class A misdemeanor domestic battery involving an incident with his wife. The first count was elevated to a Level 5 felony based on Knight’s 2014 conviction for domestic battery against his wife, for which the Indiana Supreme Court publicly reprimanded him in In re Knight, 42 N.E.3d (Mem.) (Ind. June 5, 2015).

In the current case, Knight entered into a plea agreement in which he agreed to plead guilty to the misdemeanor battery count in exchange for the state’s dismissal of the remaining four counts. Specifically, Knight admitted to touching his wife in a rude, insolent or angry manner when he grabbed her and dragged her by her leg, resulting in her bodily injury.

A senior judge presiding over the combined guilty plea and sentencing hearing imposed probation conditions that did not include community service. Knight was sentenced then in accordance with the plea agreement to one year in the Carroll County Jail, all suspended.

But shortly thereafter, the regular presiding judge on its own motion set a new hearing to modify the probation, adding two new conditions, including a condition that required Knight to perform 600 hours of community service during his probationary period and to report his hours to probation on a monthly basis.

Knight appealed, arguing the Carroll Circuit Court did not have authority to add the community service condition because the condition was “punitive of nature” and not contained in the plea agreement. He also successfully moved for a stay of the community service condition, arguing the imposition of community service was an “onerous burden on Knight who must bill hours of work as a lawyer and maintain his legal practice and pay his staff.”

The Indiana Court of Appeals on Tuesday likewise reversed the trial court’s imposition of the new community service condition, but not without first finding that the trial court complied with the requirements of Indiana Code § 35-38-2-1.8(c) when it held a new probation hearing.

“However, at the time the trial court imposed this Community Service Condition, Knight had already completed his substance abuse counseling and had paid restitution, costs, and fees. Thus, per the terms of Knight’s plea agreement, his probation was nonreporting. Because the specific language of Knight’s plea agreement controls the general language, the trial court did not have authority under Knight’s plea agreement to impose the Community Service Condition,” Judge Rudolph Pyle III wrote for the appellate court.

Thus, upon finding that the imposition of the community service condition was beyond the trial court’s discretion, the appellate court reversed in James T. Knight v. State of Indiana, 20A-CR-268.

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