Drug offender wrongfully placed in DOC instead of county jail, COA rules

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A trial court abused its discretion when it ordered a man to spend 1½ years in the Indiana Department of Correction for Level 6 felony drug possession charges, the Court of Appeals of Indiana has affirmed.

In February 2020, Allen County law enforcement responded to a civil disturbance involving Randall S. Mitchell II.

When the officer located and approached Mitchell, the suspect identified himself and admitted that he had an outstanding warrant. The officer then asked Mitchell if he had anything illegal on his person, and Mitchell disclosed that he had a pipe in his jacket pocket.

The officer conducted a search of Mitchell’s person and discovered two pipes as well as a crystal-like substance wrapped in a piece of paper. One of the pipes contained a burnt residue.

The crystal-like substance was identified as 0.5 grams of methamphetamine, and Mitchell was arrested. He was charged with Level 6 felony possession of methamphetamine and Class C misdemeanor possession of paraphernalia.

In August 2020, Mitchell pleaded guilty to both charges. In exchange for the guilty plea, the state agreed to allow Mitchell to participate in the Drug Court Diversion Program, and the parties signed a participation agreement.

The agreement provided that Mitchell’s participation in the drug court program would be required for 12 to 18 months, and he could not use or possess drugs during that time.

In May 2021, Mitchell’s case manager filed a motion to terminate his placement in the program, alleging he had violated the terms of the program by testing positive for fentanyl twice, testing positive for Buprenorphine and failing to appear for his drug screening in May 2021.

Mitchell admitted he had violated the terms, and he was removed from the program.

The Allen Superior Court found Mitchell’s guilty plea and remorse as mitigating circumstances but sentenced him to the DOC for 1½ years for Level 6 felony conviction of possession of methamphetamine and 60 days for Class C misdemeanor possession of paraphernalia charges.

While the Court of Appeals determined his sentencing length wasn’t inappropriate, it concluded the trial court abused its discretion by sentencing him to the DOC.

The COA cited Indiana Code § 35-38-3-3 which provides “a person convicted of a misdemeanor may not be committed to the [DOC]” except under certain circumstances, and subsection (d) provides that a “’court may not commit a person convicted of a Level 6 felony to the [DOC] unless’” certain circumstances apply.”The state conceded the trial court “lacked statutory authority” to order Mitchell to serve time at the DOC, so the COA reversed and remanded to the trial court with instructions to correct its abstract of judgment and sentencing order so that Mitchell can be transferred to the appropriate county jail.

The case is Randall S. Mitchell II v. State of Indiana, 21A-CR-1570.

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