Argued: May 9, 2019
from the Jefferson Circuit Court No. 39C01-1307-FB-696 The
Honorable W. Gregory Coy, Judge
Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals No.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General
of Indiana Ellen H. Meilaender Deputy Attorney General
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE Jason J. Pattison Madison, Indiana
Justice Rush and Justices Massa, Slaughter, and Goff concur.
our Court decided Rodriguez v. State, --- N.E.3d ---
(Ind. 2019), a case interpreting the same statutory
provisions at issue in the present dispute. The law stated in
that opinion is equally applicable to this case.
Stafford was charged with one count Dealing a Controlled
Substance, a Class B felony, on July 18, 2013. Stafford also
faced two additional charges under separate cause numbers.
Defendant entered into a plea agreement to resolve each of
these cases, which resulted in fixed sentences of six years
at the Department of Correction for the Class B felony charge
and an additional thirty days at the Jefferson County Jail
and four years at the Department of Correction with direct
placement in Jefferson County Community Corrections for the
other two offenses, all of which was to be served
consecutively. The plea agreement was accepted by the trial
court on June 18, 2014, and Stafford was sentenced according
to the terms of the agreement.
petitioned to modify her Class B felony sentence on January
30, 2017. The State opposed Stafford's petition, arguing
the trial court was bound by the terms of the fixed plea
agreement. The court granted Stafford's petition on April
12, 2017, and ordered Defendant released from imprisonment.
The State appealed and the Court of Appeals affirmed the
trial court, finding recent amendments to Indiana Code
section 35-38-1-17 indicated that a trial court was now
permitted to modify a fixed sentence entered pursuant to a
plea agreement. State v. Stafford, 86 N.E.3d 190,
194 (Ind.Ct.App. 2017), vacated and remanded, 100
N.E.3d 696 ("Stafford I").
transfer, our Court considered this and another case that
involved similar questions over the interpretation of the
sentence modification statute. See Rodriguez v.
State, 91 N.E.3d 1033 (Ind.Ct.App. 2018), vacated
and remanded, 100 N.E.3d 696 ("Rodriguez
I"). In light of 2018 amendments to the same
statute, our Court issued an order remanding both this case
and Rodriguez I to the Court of Appeals for further
consideration. State v. Stafford, 100 N.E.3d 696
remand, the Court of Appeals determined the statute was
ambiguous and that subsequent amendments to the statute made
clear trial courts were not authorized to modify a
defendant's sentence imposed by a plea agreement unless
the agreement expressly contemplates modification. State
v. Stafford, 117 N.E.3d 621, 625 (Ind.Ct.App. 2018).
Accordingly, it reversed the trial court and remanded the
matter. Id. at 626. Judge Baker dissented, believing
the legislature lacked authority in its 2018 amendments to
"retroactively void a court order by statute"
because to do so violated the Indiana Constitution's
Separation of Powers provision. Id. at 628 (Baker,
J., dissenting). Stafford sought transfer, which we granted,
thereby vacating the Court of Appeals opinion. Ind. Appellate
today's companion case Rodriguez, we determined
that the legislature's amendments to Indiana Code section
35-38-1-17 did not signify a shift from the long standing
precedent of Pannarale v. State, a case in which our
Court found "the sentencing court possesses only that
degree of discretion provided in the plea agreement with
regard to imposing an initial sentence or altering it
later." 638 N.E.2d 1247, 1248 (Ind. 1994);
Rodriguez, --- N.E.3d at --- (Slip Op. at 13).
Therefore, trial courts are bound by the terms of a plea
agreement and may only modify a sentence in a way that would
have been authorized at the time of sentencing.
Pannarale, 638 N.E.2d at 1249; Ind. Code §
35-35-3-3(e). Because Stafford's plea agreement in the
present case called for a fixed sentence, the trial court was
bound by these terms and had no discretion to modify
we reverse the trial court and remand for any additional