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State v. Stafford

Court of Appeals of Indiana

December 27, 2018

State of Indiana, Appellant-Defendant,
v.
Pebble Stafford, Appellee-Plaintiff

          Appeal from the Jefferson Circuit Court The Honorable Darrell M. Auxier, Judge The Honorable W. Gregory Coy, Special Judge Trial Court Cause No. 39C01-1307-FB-696

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Ellen H. Meilaender Supervising Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE Jason J. Pattison Madison, Indiana

          ALTICE, JUDGE.

         Case Summary

         [¶1] On June 10, 2014, Pebble Stafford pled guilty to three offenses each under a separate cause number, and her plea agreement provided that she would receive consecutive sentences of six years executed, thirty days in jail, and four years executed with direct placement in community corrections. The trial court accepted the plea agreement and sentenced Stafford accordingly. In 2017, Stafford petitioned the trial court for a sentence modification. Over the State's objection, the trial court granted Stafford's motion. The State appealed.

         [¶2] We issued an opinion in this case in October 2017 and determined that in light of the legislature's 2014 amendment to Ind. Code § 35-38-1-17, Stafford did not waive her right to sentence modification by entering into a fixed plea agreement, and thus, the trial court was authorized to modify her sentence without the approval of the prosecutor. We therefore affirmed the trial court's modification of Stafford's sentence, but asked the legislature for clarification.

         [¶3] Likely in response to our request, the legislature amended I.C. § 35-38-1-17 effective on July 1, 2018. Our Supreme Court granted transfer, vacated our original opinion in this case, and remanded to us with instructions to reconsider in light of this amendment. For the reasons set forth below, we now conclude that the trial court was not authorized to amend Stafford's sentence as it was pursuant to a fixed plea agreement.

         [¶4] Judgment reversed and remanded with instructions.

         Facts & Procedural History

         [¶5] On July 18, 2013, the State charged Stafford with Class B felony dealing in a controlled substance. At that time, Stafford also faced two unrelated charges under two separate cause numbers. On June 10, 2014, Stafford entered into a plea agreement with the State resolving all three cases. Stafford agreed to plead guilty to Class B felony dealing in a controlled substance, Class B misdemeanor possession of a substance to interfere with a screening test, and Class C felony battery. The plea agreement provided that Stafford would receive consecutive sentences of six years in the Department of Correction (DOC) with none suspended for the Class B felony; thirty days in the Jefferson County Jail for the Class B misdemeanor; and four years in the DOC with direct placement in community corrections for the Class C felony battery. The plea agreement contained no provision for sentence modification. The trial court accepted the plea agreement and sentenced Stafford in accordance therewith.

         [¶6] Effective July 1, 2014, weeks after Stafford pled guilty, the legislature amended I.C. § 35-38-1-17 in an effort to relax the rules regarding sentence modification. On January 30, 2017, Stafford filed a petition to modify her sentence. The State objected, citing Ind. Code § 35-35-3-3(e), which dictates that a trial court is bound by the terms of the plea agreement. Following a hearing, the trial court granted Stafford's petition on April 12, 2017. In relevant part, the trial court found as follows:

2. The plea agreement was silent as to the right of [Stafford] to seek a modification; nor did it preclude her from doing so.
3. [Stafford] has completed a therapeutic community [program] for which she was given credit toward her sentence.
4. After completion of the CLIFF program [Stafford] served as a mentor in the program.
5. [Stafford] also obtained a GED, completed a course in Problem Solving, and took courses in building trades.
6. [Stafford's] plan upon release is to go to the Ruth Haven halfway house, obtain a full time job, remain clean, and continue her education at IVY Tech as a part time student.
10. This court finds that there is no purpose in requiring [Stafford] to remain in the DOC until her current release date of August, 2019; she has completed multiple programs while at DOC and no further programs or treatment are available there which will avail [Stafford] of any further opportunity to improve herself or her situation at DOC and has been rehabilitated to the extent the DOC is able to do so.
11. [Stafford] can seek to become employed and educated if released from imprisonment.
12. The Court finds that the remainder of [Stafford]'s sentence should be suspended to probation with monitoring by the community corrections department.

Appellant's Appendix Vol. 2 at 118-19. The trial court ordered that Stafford be on supervised probation for three years, but that after successful completion of one year of probation, she could petition for ...


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