Judge rejects plea agreement in gun case, sends it back to attorneys

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HANCOCK COUNTY — A Richmond man who law enforcement officials identified as a serious violent felon had a gun in his possession illegally in May when he was arrested. The case was scheduled to be settled via a plea agreement this week in Hancock County Superior Court 1. However, Judge D.J. Davis rejected the deal and sent the case back to attorneys representing each side.

The rejection of a plea agreement is not uncommon in the legal field, but it is somewhat rare in Hancock County with the vast majority of criminal plea agreements being accepted by local judges. The case has now been reset for a pre-trial conference Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2024.

Marcus Darnell Smith, 35, 700 block of South 12th street, was originally charged with a Level 4 felony count of unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon and a Class B misdemeanor charge of possession of marijuana, stemming from an incident on May, 10.

Smith was also facing another charge in Hancock County, a Level 5 felony count of a prisoner possessing dangerous device or material from an incident inside the Hancock County Jail on July 6.

A plea agreement submitted several weeks ago called for Smith to admit guilt to the Level 4 and the Level 5 felonies and be given a five-year term with a cap of two years to be executed in prison for each charge with both terms to run at the same time.

However, Wednesday Davis said he would not accept the plea agreement. Davis noted after reviewing a pre-sentence investigation report on Smith and hearing arguments at a sentencing hearing back in October, he reset Wednesday as the day for his decision on the plea agreement to be announced. Davis noted back then he wanted more time to consider the plea agreement.

During the hearing Wednesday, Davis asked both parties if there was any other statement they wished to make, and both representatives from the prosecutor’s office and the defense had nothing further to add.

“So, I rejected the plea agreement that was filed,” Davis said. “I told deputy prosecutor Victoria Thomas and public defender Jeremy Teipen, I respected them both, but I cannot accept the plea agreement, and I ruled the plea agreement is rejected.”

Davis added no other public comments as reason for his decision, but did advised the defendant it was nothing personal. Davis did say that as a judge he has to do what he feels is right and that is why he rejected the plea agreement.

Prosecutor Brent Eaton said it is up to the courts to accept or reject plea agreements and they will adhere to the courts decision.

“It’s been my professional experience after having been in criminal courts for 20 years, universally the prosecutor knows the case and evidence better than anyone,” Eaton said. “But, from time to time, the courts want to make a different decision than our suggestion, and we have to live with that. We just hope the outcome in moving forward is what the court is looking for.”

According to a probable cause affidavit, an Indiana State Trooper was traveling westbound on I-70 near the 95-mile marker where the interstate was under construction with a posted speed limit of 55 miles per hour. The trooper noted a black passenger vehicle approached him at a high rate of speed, 90 miles per hour, passing the trooper who was traveling approximately 65 miles per hour when the vehicle passed him on the left.

The trooper pulled the vehicle, a 2022 Honda Civic, over and noticed the strong smell of marijuana coming from the car which Smith was driving. Smith informed the trooper the vehicle was a rental car, and he was traveling from Richmond to South Bend, the affidavit said.

A check of Smith’s driving record showed Smith had an open warrant out of Saint Joseph County in reference to a previous drug charge.

According to the affidavit, a vehicle search revealed a small plastic bag containing suspected marijuana located in a cup holder ashtray, in the front seat cup holder. Inside the trunk, in the spare tire compartment, a separate bag containing three separate bags of suspected marijuana was located. Officials also found a A 9MM Taurus G2C handgun with a 30-round magazine was also located in the same area.

Officials noted in the report that the handgun was unloaded and separated from the magazine at the time. The magazine contained 10 total 9mm rounds. Smith was arrested at the time and taken to the Hancock County Jail where he’s remained until the sentencing.

A look at Smith’s statewide records show he had four other criminal cases against that are now closed, which included charges of possession of meth, possession of marijuana, and escape and burglary.