Supreme Court Ruling
On March 21, the Indiana Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor for a client of Steven Knecht, a partner with Vonderheide & Knecht, overturning the client’s consecutive sentence enhancement as an habitual offender. The client was represented at the trial court by a different law firm. He pled guilty to theft and being an habitual offender with the sentence to be determined in part by the trial court. Previously, he had pled guilty to theft and being an habitual offender in a different county. Indiana law requires habitual offender enhancements to be served concurrently. Unfortunately, the client signed a plea agreement that included a provision that he waived his right to appeal an erroneous sentence. The trial court ordered its habitual offender enhancement to be served consecutively to the habitual offender enhancement from the first county. The Court Appeals decided the client had waived his right to appeal this consecutive sentence by signing the plea agreement even though the sentence was illegal under Indiana law.
Knecht successfully petitioned the Indiana Supreme Court to review this decision. The Supreme Court held that a waiver of the right to appeal contained in a plea agreement is unenforceable where the sentence imposed is contrary to law and the defendant did not bargain for the sentence. Absent due process concerns to the contrary, when a defendant explicitly agrees to a particular sentence or a specified method of impositions of sentences, whether or not the sentence or method is authorized by law, he cannot later appeal such sentence on the ground it is illegal. But in this case, the plea agreement the defendant entered into did not provide for an illegal sentence, so the defendant is entitled to presume the trial court would sentence him in accordance with the law. Because the law does not permit the imposition of consecutive habitual offender sentences and the defendant did not agree to consecutive habitual offender enhancements, his waiver of appeal is thus invalid and his habitual offender sentences must be ordered to run concurrently.