Split court rules no-shows forfeit right to trial attendance, counsel appearance

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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If a defendant doesn't appear at a trial he or she knew about, a trial court can consider that a knowing and voluntary waiver of that person's right to be present and to have counsel appear there, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday.

Justices ruled 3-2 in Carlos M. Jackson v. State of Indiana, No. 15S01-0609-CR-333, which involved a man found guilty of possession of cocaine with intent to deliver and possession of an unlicensed handgun. Jackson was ordered to attend pretrial conferences in late 2002, but didn't do so and also didn't attend the jury trial in January 2003. The state proceeded without him and convicted him in absentia after the two-day trial.

Jackson appealed on grounds that he didn't know about the trial, and the Dearborn Circuit Court denied his motion to correct error. But the Court of Appeals last year reversed and remanded for a new trial.

In Tuesday's ruling, the Supreme Court held that a trial court may find a knowing and voluntary waiver of a defendant's right to be present at trial if that person knew his or her trial date, and if no adequate reason was provided for an absence. Justices also held that a court isn't required to re-advise a defendant of the right to counsel or the perils of self-representation when revoking a defendant's attorney's pro hac vice status if that person was advised at the initial hearing, or if they'd already retained an attorney or hadn't advised the court of an intent to proceed pro se.

"Under these circumstances, a defendant's intentional and inexcusable absence from trial can serve as a knowing, voluntary, and intelligent waiver of the right to counsel," the court wrote. "We cannot expect a trial court to hunt down a defendant to admonish him about the dangers and disadvantages of self-representation if the defendant has made no indication to the trial court that he intends to proceed pro se and then subsequently does not show up for trial."

However, dissenting Justices Robert Rucker and Frank Sullivan joined together to write that Jackson didn't knowingly or intelligently waive his right to counsel.

Justice Rucker wrote, "I agree that a trial court cannot 'hunt down a defendant to admonish him'... Such an inquiry is quite obviously impossible when a defendant fails to present himself before the court. But one's fugitive status is a separate wrong with its own consequences, and returned fugitives should be punished, if appropriate, for violations of court orders or statutes which compel their presence in court. It is not grounds for forfeiting the right to representation by counsel."

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  1. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues