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Majority orders new requirement for pro se defendants with little guidance

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Three Indiana Supreme Court justices created a new requirement as an exercise of supervisory powers when it comes to informing future defendants about the dangers of proceeding pro se, leaving two justices to dissent because the new requirement provides no guidance as to what trial courts must do or say.

In David Hopper v. State of Indiana, No. 13S01-1007-PC-399, David Hopper originally pled guilty in 2005 to operating while intoxicated. He signed a “waiver of attorney” form. In 2009, he filed a petition for post-conviction relief saying his waiver wasn’t made knowingly and intelligently and because of that, he was denied his right to counsel in violation of the U.S. and state constitutions.

The Court of Appeals reversed the denial of relief by the post-conviction court. The judges found a waiver of counsel entered into without advice of both the right to counsel and the dangers of proceeding pro se is not knowing and voluntary. They pointed out the value of counsel’s experience in bargaining for a plea and the ability to find weaknesses in the state’s position to allow for negotiation.

The Court of Appeals referred to the constitutions, but Justices Theodore Boehm, Robert Rucker, and Frank Sullivan decided not to base their holding on either the federal or state constitution, noted Justice Boehm for the majority.

“Rather, we exercise our supervisory power to require that in the future a defendant expressing a desire to proceed without counsel is to be advised of the dangers of going to trial as required by Faretta, and also be informed that an attorney is usually more experienced in plea negotiations and better able to identify and evaluate any potential defenses and evidentiary or procedural problems in the prosecution’s case,” he wrote.

The majority noted this new advisement, which is prospectively applied, will require minimal additional time or effort at the initial hearing and may encourage defendants to accept counsel. They don’t believe it will impose a significant burden on the judicial process, but didn’t offer any specific instructions on how trial courts were to advise defendants.

Since this will apply to future cases only, the majority affirmed the judgment of the trial court.

Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard and Justice Brent Dickson dissented. Chief Justice Shepard wrote that the primary beneficiaries of the decision will be repeat offenders, people like Hopper “because he has been charged with yet another offense and it would be helpful to him if he could wipe out his last conviction for drunk driving.”

The warnings mandated by the majority aren’t required by the federal Constitution and the majority explicitly declined to say that they are required by the state constitution, he continued, and they acted “without a word” on balancing the social costs or benefits within the mandate.

The dissent questioned how many people will decide not to plead guilty because of the “minimal” judicial intervention introduced by the majority, or how many repeat offenders will avoid penalties because the warning was omitted or found inadequate with the benefit of hindsight.

“That society, or even offenders, will be better off is far from clear,” he wrote.
 

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