Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Rodriguez v. State

Supreme Court of Indiana

August 7, 2019

Alberto Baiza Rodriguez Appellant,
v.
State of Indiana Appellee.

          Argued: May 9, 2019

          Appeal from the Elkhart Superior Court, No. 20D06-1503-F6-264 The Honorable David C. Bonfiglio, Judge

         On Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 20A03-1704-CR-724

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Jessica R. Merino South Bend, Indiana

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

          OPINION

          DAVID, JUSTICE.

         We granted transfer in this case and a related case, Pebble Stafford v. State of Indiana, ___N.E.3d___ (Ind. 2019) ("Stafford II"), to resolve conflicting opinions from our Court of Appeals concerning recent amendments to Indiana's sentence modification statutes. As a matter of statutory interpretation, we find the decades-old rule of sentence modification remains undisturbed: courts may modify a sentence only if the new sentence would not have violated the terms of the valid plea agreement had the new sentence been originally imposed. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's judgment that it was not authorized to modify the sentence imposed under Defendant's fixed-term plea agreement.

         Facts and Procedural History

         In March 2015, Defendant Alberto Rodriguez was charged with class A misdemeanor operating while intoxicated ("OWI") and class C misdemeanor operating a vehicle with an alcohol concentration equivalent of .08 or more. Due to prior OWI convictions, Rodriguez was also charged with level 6 felony OWI with a prior conviction and with being a habitual vehicular substance offender ("HVSO").

         Rodriguez entered into a plea agreement on January 6, 2016. In exchange for dismissal of the class C misdemeanor charge, Rodriguez pled guilty to the class A misdemeanor OWI, level 6 felony OWI with a prior conviction, and HVSO charges. The trial court accepted the plea agreement and sentenced Rodriguez according to the plea agreement's terms: thirty months in Elkhart County work release for merged level 6 felony OWI with a prior conviction and class A misdemeanor OWI charges and an additional forty-two months on work release for the HVSO charge. A hand-written notation on the plea agreement read, "Agreed all time to Work Release no discretion to change." (Appellant's App. Vol. II at 13) (emphasis in original). This note was incorporated into the trial court's sentencing order.[1]

         On January 12, 2017, Rodriguez petitioned to modify his sentence under Indiana Code section 35-38-1-17(e).[2] At the modification hearing, Rodriguez argued that recent changes to the modification statute- combined with his positive report from work release and his need to be present for his son-supported the court's ability to modify his sentence. The State opposed Rodriguez's petition, arguing that courts have no power to modify a sentence once the court has accepted a binding stipulated plea agreement.

         The trial court denied Rodriguez's motion to modify his sentence. The court relied on Indiana Code section 35-38-1-17(1) (2016), which read:

A person may not waive the right to sentence modification under this section as part of a plea agreement. Any purported waiver of the right to sentence modification under this section in a plea agreement is invalid and unenforceable as against public policy. This subsection does not prohibit the finding of a waiver of the right to sentence modification for any other reason, including failure to comply with the provisions of this section.

(Emphasis altered from court's order). Applying the above emphasized language to the specific terms of Rodriguez's plea agreement, the court found that a defendant who "enter[s] into a binding plea agreement waives the right to seek or receive a modification of [his or her] sentence." (Appellant's App. Vol. II at 22.) Thus, the trial court held that it had no authority to modify Rodriguez's sentence. Rodriguez appealed.

         In a split decision, the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that "modification of Rodriguez's sentence is permissible under Section 35-38-1-17(1)…" Rodriguez v. State, 91 N.E.3d 1033, 1038 (Ind.Ct.App. 2018), vacated and remanded, 100 N.E.3d 696 (Ind. 2018) ("Rodriguez I"). The court opined that because the legislature amended the modification statute to prohibit explicit waiver of the right to sentence modification in a plea agreement, it was the legislature's intent "to preserve a defendant's right to modification of a fixed sentence imposed under a plea agreement." Id. at 1037-38. The majority found additional support for its position in the decision of another panel of the Court of Appeals in State v. Stafford, which held modification of a fixed plea was possible because the legislature "plainly stated that a person may not waive the right to sentence modification as part of a plea agreement…." 86 N.E.3d 190, 193 (Ind.Ct.App. 2017), vacated and remanded, 100 N.E.3d 696 (Ind. 2018) ("Stafford I").

         Senior Judge Rucker dissented, finding that "[a]lthough Indiana Code section 35-38-1-17(1) prohibits a plea agreement from containing express language waiving the right to sentence modification, the statute does not prohibit a finding of waiver on other grounds." Rodriguez I, 91 N.E.3d at 1039 (Rucker, S.J., dissenting). Harmonizing the provisions of subsection (1) with Indiana Code section 35-35-3-3(e), [3] Senior Judge Rucker believed the trial court lacked authority to modify Rodriguez's sentence because Rodriguez struck a bargain with the State of Indiana to "serve a precise sentence with a specific entity." Id. at 1040. Accordingly, the dissent would have held that the trial court was bound by the terms of Rodriguez's plea agreement-a valid "other reason" for finding the waiver of a right to sentence modification. Id.

         The State sought transfer, which we granted. Rodriguez v. State, 100 N.E.3d 696 (Ind. 2018). In a published order, we noted that "[d]uring the 2018 legislative session, the General Assembly amended Indiana Code sections 35-35-1-2 and 35-38-1-17, addressing guilty pleas and the reduction or suspension of a sentence, effective July 1, 2018." Id. As such, we remanded the case to the Court of Appeals so it could reconsider its opinion in light of the statutory amendments. Id.

         On remand, the Court of Appeals reaffirmed its original holding in Rodriguez I, finding that the retroactive application of 2018 amendments to the sentence modification statute violated the contract clause of the Federal Constitution. Rodriguez v. State, 116 N.E.3d 515, 524 (Ind.Ct.App. 2018) ("Rodriguez II"). Senior Judge Rucker again dissented for the reasons expressed in his earlier dissenting opinion in Rodriguez I. Id. (Rucker, S.J., dissenting).

         The State sought transfer, which we granted, thereby vacating the Court of Appeals opinion. Ind. Appellate Rule 58(A).

         Standard of Review

         Matters of statutory interpretation present pure questions of law; as such, these questions are reviewed de novo. Nicoson v. State, 938 N.E.2d 660, 663 (Ind. 2010). This Court "presumes that the legislature intended for the statutory language to be applied in a logical manner ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.