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. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  2. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  3. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  4. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  5. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.