Split COA affirms ex-doctor’s probation revocation

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An order for a former doctor involved in a pill mill scheme to serve thousands of days in jail for violating probation has been affirmed. A divided Indiana Court of Appeals panel concluded there was enough evidence to prove a new offense was committed.

William Terpstra, who previously practiced at Wagoner Medical Centers in Kokomo, pleaded guilty to two counts of Class B felony dealing in a narcotic drug for knowingly delivering methadone outside the course of professional practice and for nonmedical purposes to two separate victims. He was ordered to serve 5,475 days, 548 days on home detention, with the remainder suspended to probation.

In 2017, the Howard Superior Court ordered Terpstra’s previously suspended sentence to be executed in the Department of Correction, concluding that placing him anywhere else would “only give him an opportunity to victimize the weak and helpless members of society” after he was charged with child molesting during his probation.

Terpstra appealed, arguing insufficient evidence proved he committed the offense. A majority of the Indiana Court of Appeals disagreed, noting that the trial court concluded that the victim was a credible witness, that the offense occurred as she reported it, and that the offense occurred even though Terpstra’s wife did not directly observe it. The majority also concluded that the trial court was aware that the new offense was required to have been committed during Terpstra’s probation period, and its revocation statement adequately outlined that awareness.

Additionally, it found that any error committed by the trial court regarding evidence was harmless in light of the judicial temperance presumption, finding Terpstra did not overcome it because he did not show that the evidence was admitted over his objection. However, Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik dissented from the appellate majority in a separate opinion, arguing that judicial-temperance presumption does not save the trial court’s actions.

“The majority states: ‘Although we do not encourage trial courts to conduct probation revocation proceedings in this manner, we conclude that to hold that a trial court under these circumstances must always immediately rule on evidentiary objections would be to unnecessarily limit the discretion of the trial court and to ignore the increased flexibility of probation revocation proceedings.’

“I fear this will be read to excuse trial-court judges in bench trials from making explicit evidentiary rulings,” Vaidik wrote. “And I do not mean to suggest that a trial court cannot take an evidentiary issue under advisement and must ‘immediately’ rule on it, only that it must, at some point, announce its ruling on the issue or, in the alternative, specifically identify the evidence it relied upon in reaching its decision.”

The majority also rejected Terpstra’s argument that the trial court’s sanction was an abuse of its discretion because the 4,927-day sentence was “far beyond what a first[-]time offender accused of child molest would typically receive.” Instead, the majority noted that the sentence was not for a child-molesting conviction, but for his probation violation in a drug-dealing case.

 Lastly, contrary to Terpstra’s argument on appeal, the trial court’s statements upon sanctioning him for the probation violation reveal that it did not order him to serve the entirety of his previously-suspended sentence because it thought the drug dealing case sentence was too lenient; instead, it sanctioned him because he did not change his behavior despite being accorded that leniency,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote in affirming the trial court.

 However, Vaidik wrote that she would reverse and remand the case for specific rulings on Terpstra’s evidentiary objections or a more detailed explanation of which evidence the court did or did not rely on in making its decision in William Terpstra v. State of Indiana, 19A-CR-671.

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