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Appellate court reverses grant of post-conviction relief

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The Indiana Court of Appeals found that the post-conviction court erred when it concluded that a defendant had not knowingly waived his right to counsel.

In State of Indiana v. Christopher Vickers, No. 88A05-1106-PC-317, 19-year-old Christopher Vickers was arrested for various alcohol offenses and appeared two days later at an initial hearing along with a group of other defendants. At this hearing, the trial court advised the defendants of their rights, including the right to have an attorney, the risk of proceeding without one, and the availability of appointed counsel. Vickers’ family indicated that they would try to find an attorney, to which the trial court requested they let the judge know quickly so counsel could be appointed if needed.

Vickers eventually signed a plea agreement to Class A misdemeanor operating a vehicle while intoxicated causing endangerment; he did not have an attorney. The form was not signed by the trial court and didn’t have the name of the prosecutor and date completed on it. Nearly seven years later, Vickers filed his petition for post-conviction relief claiming that he had not knowingly or voluntarily waived his right to counsel. The post-conviction court granted his request, in part because there wasn’t a record of Vickers’ waiver of his right to counsel.

Based on Supreme Court precedent, the lack of a record showing a waiver of right to counsel does not necessarily mean the trial court didn’t make such a determination that the waiver was valid, so the extent that the post-conviction court relied on the lack of record to grant relief was an error, wrote Judge Patricia Riley.

Looking at other evidence in the record, the appellate court couldn’t find that Vickers met his burden of proof establishing that he didn’t waive his right to counsel or did not unequivocally assert his right to proceed without an attorney.

 

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