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High court rules on prisoners issues

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The Indiana Supreme Court handed down two opinions Wednesday in which the high court expressly adopted the "prison mailbox rule" and determined a majority of the Indiana Parole Board constitutes the full parole board when making final decisions.

Even though the state has regularly used the "prison mailbox rule" to determine whether court filings made by prisoners are timely under appellate rules, the Supreme Court never expressly adopted the rule. The high court did so in Regunal Dowell v. State of Indiana, No. 32S01-1003-PC-136, requiring that litigants must still provide reasonable, legitimate, and verifiable documentation of the filing.

Dowell appealed the post-conviction court's denial of his motion to correct error. He claimed he put the motion in the correctional facility's mail system within the 30-day deadline, although it wasn't file stamped by the county clerk until two days later. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the post-conviction court.

The high court went through several previous cases involving the mailbox rule and explained that pro se prisoners need to provide reasonable, legitimate, and verifiable documentation supporting the claim that a document was timely submitted to prison officials for mailing. When the proof is lacking, the courts can't rule the filing was timely. Under Indiana Trial Rule 5, the mailbox rule applies when the court can see the prisoner used certified mail, return receipt requested, and deposited the mailing by or before the filing deadline.

But Dowell used regular mail, and had no evidence to show he timely filed his motion, so the trial court appropriately date-stamped it on the day it arrived in the clerk's office. The Supreme Court dismissed his appeal because it wasn't timely filed.

In Kevin S. Varner v. Indiana Parole Board, No. 45S04-0909-CR-407, the justices held that a majority of the Indiana Parole Board constitutes the "full parole board" under the statute governing final decisions that require the full parole board to make the determination. Only four members voted on whether Kevin Varner should be paroled; two voted yes, two voted no, and the fifth member wasn't present. Because he didn't receive a majority, he asked if there could be a rehearing so the fifth member could cast a vote, but the board denied his request. The Court of Appeals held that all five members were required by statute to vote on his parole.

The phrase "full parole board" isn't defined in Indiana Code Section 11-13-3-3(b), but the high court concluded it means that just a majority must vote, and not all five members. Reading the statute that way comports with the legislature's rules of statutory construction and interpreting it that way is supported by the board's administrative rules, wrote Justice Frank Sullivan. The justices also compared the statute to those governing workers' compensation, in which the courts have repeatedly held that a decision by the "full board" doesn't mean all five members participate in the hearing and final award, as long as a majority of the board approves the finding and award.

"...we believe the interpretation by the Court of Appeals would limit the ability of the Board to discharge its duties to a degree well beyond that which we believe the Legislature intended," wrote Justice Sullivan. "As the State points out, to require all Board members to vote on each parole decision would cause unnecessary delay in the grant of parole."

The Supreme Court vacated the Court of Appeals' opinion except for the portion addressing subject matter jurisdiction and denied Varner's request for a writ of mandamus.

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  1. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  2. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  3. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  4. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  5. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

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