Argued: May 9, 2019
from the Elkhart Superior Court, No. 20D06-1503-F6-264 The
Honorable David C. Bonfiglio, Judge
Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No.
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
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.
and Procedural History
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").
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.
January 12, 2017, Rodriguez petitioned to modify his sentence
under Indiana Code section 35-38-1-17(e). 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.
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.
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").
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),  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
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.
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).
State sought transfer, which we granted, thereby vacating the
Court of Appeals opinion. Ind. Appellate Rule 58(A).
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