Supreme Court clarifies credit time rules

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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A trio of opinions from the Indiana Supreme Court gives trial courts additional guidance about how to handle prisoner claims regarding how credit time is applied to sentences.

The three-ruling package deal came down late Thursday, with the court simultaneously granting transfer and deciding Keith Neff v. State of Indiana, No. 49S02-0806-CR-362; and Charles Young v. State of Indiana, Nos. 27S02-0806-PC-363 and 27S02-0806-PC-364.

Justice Frank Sullivan authored the decisions that are all designed to clarify a ruling the Supreme Court made in Robinson v. State, 805 N.E.2d 783 (Ind. 2004), which discussed procedures available to prisoners for correcting a sentence erroneous on the face of the judgment of conviction. These collateral issues are now being addressed in these new opinions.

First, in the main holding in Neff, the court unanimously decided that an abstract of judgment may function in the place of a formal judgment of conviction. But a prisoner must exhaust all administrative remedies within the Department of Correction before seeking judicial relief if the agency fails to give that person earned credit time, the court held.

Receiving a 20-year sentence for pleading guilty to a felony charge of dealing methamphetamine, Neff filed a motion claiming that he was only given half of the total 1,712 days of credit time toward his sentence. But the trial court and appellate court both rejected his argument on grounds that he'd only challenged an abstract of judgment, rather than an actual judgment of conviction. The Court of Appeals had relied on the holding in Robinson, where the justices had previously concluded state statutes governing credit time and motions to correct sentence couldn't be based on abstracts.

But Neff faced a practical problem: Marion County doesn't make a practice of issuing a formal judgment of conviction in addition to an abstract of judgment, the court found, which made it impossible for Neff to comply with the Robinson requirement.

"We would prefer that all trial courts issue judgments of conviction in compliance with I.C. 35-38-3-2," Justice Sullivan wrote. "However, we recognize that this has not historically occurred in Marion County, which has a very high volume of criminal cases. Therefore, when a defendant files a motion to correct an erroneous sentence in a county that does not issue judgments of conviction (we are currently aware only of Marion County), the trial court's abstract of judgment will serve as an appropriate substitute ...."

The court also wrote that it's asked the Indiana Judicial Conference and the Supreme Court's Records Management Committee to study and report on whether any further action is needed.

But even when relying on the abstract, Neff didn't go through the DOC's administrative process adequately and had mistakenly calculated his credit time, justices determined. That led to the second part of its holding on exhausting administrative remedies, and ultimately caused him to lose on his claims for relief.

In the Young cases, justices were able to expand on what it held in the main opinion.

Justices held that a prisoner, in order to present a claim in state court, must show what the relevant DOC administrative grievance procedures are and that they've been exhausted. They also formalized a finding in support of what the Court of Appeals has previously held "... that post-conviction proceedings are the appropriate procedure for considering properly presented claims for educational credit time."

Young is serving a 40-year sentence from a 1992 conviction of conspiracy to deal crack cocaine, and he filed two post-conviction petitions regarding aspects of credit time while he was incarcerated. But the justices affirmed the Court of Appeals, which had determined that Young should have gone through the DOC's administrative processes to resolve the issue rather than relying on the state court system.

Ultimately, Young lost because he'd already filed at least one post-conviction petition, and the court admonished him in both opinions for not providing enough evidence to show that he'd gone through the administrative procedures or that he'd earned educational and good time credit.

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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