Learn About the Law
Get help with your legal needs
FindLaw’s Learn About the Law features thousands of informational articles to help you understand your options. And if you’re ready to hire an attorney, find one in your area who can help.
Joshua Alan CREECH, Appellant-Defendant, v. STATE of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff.
STATEMENT OF THE CASE
 Appellant-Defendant, Joshua Alan Creech (Creech), appeals his conviction for possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver, a Level 2 felony, Ind. Code § 35-48-4-1.1(a)(2), and his adjudication as an habitual offender, I.C. § 35-50-2-8, following a guilty plea.
 We affirm.
 Creech presents this court with one issue on appeal, which we restate as: Whether the trial court abused its discretion when it denied Creech's motion to withdraw his guilty plea.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
 On May 20, 2021, at approximately 2:30 p.m., Huntington City police officers conducted a welfare check on a male—later identified as Creech—lying on a street corner in Huntington, Indiana. Creech was breathing “three to four times per minute,” was unresponsive, and had constricted pupils. (Appellant's App. Vol. II, p. 58). Recognizing that Creech suffered from an opioid overdose, an officer administered Naloxone.
 While attempting to find identification for Creech, officers found a pocketknife and a wallet containing $786, but no identification. When they opened a black fanny pack Creech was wearing around his waist, the officers discovered two syringes, a plastic baggie containing crystal methamphetamine with an approximate weight of 40.23 grams, a plastic baggie with marijuana weighing approximately 6.14 grams, a container with marijuana wax, and three empty plastic baggies. Nearby on the ground, the officers located a cell phone, a scale, a cigarette pack containing two marijuana cigarettes, and a prescription bottle with Creech's name on it. Inside the bottle were nine pills containing a combination of methamphetamine and ecstasy, and a plastic baggie of crystal methamphetamine with an approximate weight of 3.73 grams.
 After an officer positively identified Creech, dispatch located an active warrant for him out of Huntington County. The officers transported Creech to the Huntington City police station where Creech was advised of his Miranda rights, which he agreed to waive. During the police interview, Creech admitted to “shoot[ing]” oxycodone with a syringe and ingesting suboxone. (Appellant's App. Vol. II, p. 59). On May 24, 2021, in a recorded phone call Creech placed from the jail to a friend, Creech admitted that he had been in possession of the methamphetamine. When his friend asked him why he had “all that stuff,” Creech responded, “[h]ow do you think I have been living?” (Appellant's App. Vol. II, p. 60).
 On May 26, 2021, the State filed an Information, charging Creech with possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver, a Level 2 felony; possession of methamphetamine, a Level 3 felony; possession of a hypodermic syringe, a Level 6 felony; possession of a controlled substance, a Class A misdemeanor; possession of marijuana, a Class B misdemeanor; and being an habitual offender. On February 10, 2022, Creech entered into a plea agreement with the State, agreeing to plead guilty to possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver, as well as to being an habitual offender in exchange for the dismissal of the other charges. After declaring that he was offering the guilty plea freely and voluntarily, Creech also affirmed that he had an opportunity to read the probable cause affidavit and confirmed that the facts therein were true and accurate.
 During the preparation of his Presentence Investigation Report (PSI), Creech claimed that he was being overcharged. He maintained that he was “a drug addict that got caught for possession of meth,” and was “about to spend the rest of [his] life [in prison] for dealing when it is only possession.” (Appellant's App. Vol. II, p. 107). On March 1, 2022, during the sentencing hearing, Creech moved to withdraw his guilty plea, relying on the statements in the PSI to assert that he was not guilty of the charges for which he was being sentenced. The trial court denied his oral motion and continued the sentencing hearing. On March 7, 2022, Creech filed a verified motion to withdraw his guilty plea, alleging that he had new evidence that his constitutional rights had been violated by an improper, warrantless search, and repeating the claims he had made in his PSI.
 On March 8, 2022, during the sentencing hearing, the trial court denied Creech's motion because no manifest injustice needed to be corrected and there was no new evidence which had been unavailable at the time of his arrest. Pursuant to the terms of the plea agreement, the trial court sentenced Creech to twenty years for possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, enhanced by ten years due to Creech's admission to being an habitual offender. The trial court dismissed all other charges.
 Creech now appeals. Additional facts will be provided as necessary.
DISCUSSION AND DECISION
 Creech challenges the trial court's denial of his motion to withdraw his guilty plea. Withdrawals of pleas are governed by Indiana Code Section 35-35-1-4(b), which provides that,
[a]fter entry of a plea of guilty ․ but before imposition of sentence, the court may allow the defendant by motion to withdraw his plea of guilty ․ for any fair and just reason unless the state has been substantially prejudiced by reliance upon the defendant's plea. The ruling of the court on the motion shall be reviewable on appeal only for an abuse of discretion. However, the court shall allow the defendant to withdraw his plea of guilty ․ whenever the defendant proves that withdrawal of the plea is necessary to correct a manifest injustice.
(Emphasis added). Our supreme court explained that
[t]he court is required to grant [a motion to withdraw guilty plea] only if the defendant proves that withdrawal of the plea is necessary to correct a manifest injustice. The court must deny a motion to withdraw a guilty plea if the withdrawal would result in substantial prejudice to the State. Except under these polar circumstances, disposition of the petition is at the discretion of the court.
Coomer v. State, 652 N.E.2d 60, 61-62 (Ind. 1995) (citation and quotation marks omitted). The defendant “has the burden of establishing his grounds for relief by a preponderance of the evidence.” I.C. § 35-35-1-4(e). “Trial court rulings on [motions to withdraw guilty plea] are presumptively valid, and parties appealing an adverse decision must prove that a court has abused its discretion.” Davis v. State, 770 N.E.2d 319, 327 (Ind. 2002). “A trial court abuses its discretion only ‘when the failure of the trial court to grant the motion would result in ․ a manifest injustice.’ ” Id. (quoting Weatherford v. State, 697 N.E.2d 32, 34 (Ind. 1998)).
 Manifest injustice is a “necessarily imprecise standard ․ [but] concerns about injustice carry greater weight when accompanied by credible evidence of involuntariness, or when the circumstances of the plea reveal that the rights of the accused were violated.” Coomer, 652 N.E.2d at 62 (emphasis added). Without contesting the voluntariness of his plea, Creech makes the unsupported argument that he has discovered new evidence which would establish that his constitutional rights were violated by the improper, warrantless search of his possessions and therefore denial of his motion resulted in a manifest injustice.
 “A search without a warrant requires the State to prove an exception to the warrant requirement applicable at the time of the search.” Price v. State, 119 N.E.3d 212, 222 (Ind. Ct. App. 2019). One exception allows police to dispense with the warrant requirement in the presence of exigent circumstances. “The warrant requirement becomes inapplicable where the ‘exigencies of the situation’ make the needs of law enforcement so compelling that the warrantless search is objectively reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.” Id. (citing McDermott v. State, 877 N.E.2d 467, 473-74 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007)). Among the well-known exigent circumstances that have justified a warrantless search or seizure are entries (1) to prevent bodily harm or death; (2) to aid a person in need of assistance; (3) to protect private property; and (4) to prevent actual or imminent destruction or removal of incriminating evidence before a search warrant may be obtained. Id. “The very point of exigent circumstances is that officers are confronted with a situation where time is of the essence and immediate action required.” Montgomery v. State, 904 N.E.2d 374, 381 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009). As stated by the United States Supreme Court, “[w]e do not question the right of the police to respond to emergency situations ․ The need to protect or preserve life or avoid serious injury is justification for what would be otherwise illegal.” Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385, 392-93, 98 S.Ct. 2408, 57 L.Ed.2d 290 (1978).
 The record reflects that, at the time the officers responded to the dispatch call, Creech was experiencing a medical emergency. By locating evidence of the substance Creech had ingested and his identity, the officers were better positioned to advise the medical personnel responding to the emergency. As we find this to be a valid exercise of an officer's responsibility to “aid a person in distress,” and without any elaboration of the new evidence Creech claimed to have discovered, or any evidence that the search was motivated by an intent to apprehend a suspect or to seize incriminating evidence, Creech's Fourth Amendment rights were not violated and no manifest injustice occurred which would have prompted the trial court to grant his motion to withdraw the guilty plea. Price, 119 N.E.3d at 222.
 In a related argument, Creech contends—and we agree—that the State would not have been substantially prejudiced if his motion to withdraw the guilty plea had been granted. However, “lack of prejudice to the State d[oes] not mean that the trial court was required to grant his motion; it meant only that the trial court retained discretion to grant his motion ‘for any fair and just reason[.]’ ” Asher v. State, 128 N.E.3d 526, 530 (Ind. Ct. App. 2019) (quoting I.C. § 35-35-1-4(b) (“the court may allow the defendant by motion to withdraw his plea of guilty ․ for any fair and just reason unless the State has been substantially prejudiced by reliance on the defendant's plea)). Here, the trial court was well within its discretion in determining that no fair and just reason supported withdrawal of Creech's guilty plea. See, e.g., Johnson v. State, 734 N.E.2d 242, 246 (Ind. 2000) (finding no abuse of discretion in denial of motion to withdraw guilty plea to murder where Johnson did not protest his innocence until the sentencing hearing). Before claiming in his PSI that he was overcharged and innocent of the charged crimes, Creech admitted in a jailhouse phone call that he possessed the methamphetamine with intent to deliver it. At the guilty plea hearing, he affirmed the veracity and accuracy of the factual basis of the plea and he was given “plenty of opportunity [to] indicate he did not want to enter that [p]lea of [g]uilty.” (Transcript Vol. II, p. 44). See Carter v. State, 739 N.E.2d 126, 131 (Ind. 2000) (holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying a defendant's motion to withdraw a guilty plea even when the motion was premised on a protestation of innocence as the trial court relied in substantial part on the fact that defendant's admission of guilt had been detailed). Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's denial of Creech's motion to withdraw his guilty plea.
 Based on the foregoing, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Creech's motion to withdraw his guilty plea.
May, J. and Tavitas, J. concur
Response sent, thank you
A free source of state and federal court opinions, state laws, and the United States Code. For more information about the legal concepts addressed by these cases and statutes visit FindLaw's Learn About the Law.
Docket No: Court of Appeals Case No. 22A-CR-740
Decided: August 30, 2022
Court: Court of Appeals of Indiana.
Search our directory by legal issue
Enter information in one or both fields (Required)
FindLaw for Legal Professionals
Search our directory by legal issue
Enter information in one or both fields (Required)