Court examines 'entry' of guilty plea withdrawal motions

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The Court of Appeals has ruled that a man convicted of not paying more than $22,000 in child support wrongly interpreted state law about withdrawing his guilty plea, and that the trial judge correctly prevented the man from doing so because he didn’t file a request in writing or justify the withdrawal.

In Thomas A. Peel v. State, No. 76A05-1012-CR-809, the appellate court upheld a judgment from Steuben Circuit Judge Allen Wheat regarding nonsupport of a dependent, a Class C felony. The state charged Peel in May 2009 for the child support arrearage of more than $15,000, and then several months later amended the information to reflect an increase in the total of more than $22,000.

Peel pleaded guilty in August 2010 and acknowledged at the plea hearing that he understood the terms of the agreement and was entering into the plea “knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily.” More than four months later, the trial court held a sentencing hearing and Peel’s attorney stated that his client wanted to withdraw the guilty plea. Though the withdrawal request wasn’t made in writing as required by Indiana Code 35-35-1-4(b), Peel’s attorney said his client had felt pressured to enter the plea agreement because his cellmate had committed suicide and that traumatic experience influenced his decision about what was in his own best interest.

The trial court denied the motion and heard sentencing arguments, then entered its judgment of conviction and sentence. The judge then issued a written order confirming its denial of Peel’s verbal plea withdrawal motion and concluded it was appropriate under IC 35-35-1-4(b).

On appeal, Peel argued that state statute doesn’t apply to his motion because the verbal request was made before the court entered judgment on the plea. Specifically, the law states that, “After entry of a plea of guilty… the court may allow the defendant by motion to withdraw his plea of guilty… for any fair and just reason unless the state has been substantially prejudiced by reliance upon the defendant’s plea.”

That statute also says the motion “shall be in writing and verified”… and that it “shall state facts in support of the relief demanded.”

Relying on an Indiana Supreme Court case a decade ago in Brightman v. State, 758 N.E. 2d 41, 44 (Ind. 2001), the appellate panel noted that statute governs motions filed “after a defendant pleads guilty but before a sentence is imposed.”

As a result, the appeals panel found Peel incorrectly interpreted the statute to say that it only applies after the “entry of judgment” on a guilty plea.”

“But the plain statutory language is broader than Peel suggests, and it applies anytime ‘after entry of a plea of guilty,’” Judge Edward Najam wrote, using Black’s Law Dictionary to determine the word “entry” means the placement of something before the court.

Peel confuses the two distinct phases of “entry” and “acceptance” of a guilty plea, the appellate panel determined.

Since the statute applied and he didn’t make it in writing as required, the appeals court determined that the trial judge correctly denied his motion. The issue is waived and the appellate court didn’t address whether the motion might have been aimed at correcting any “manifest injustice” as the state Supreme Court has determined these motions are meant to address.


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  1. I commend Joe for standing up to this tyrant attorney! You ask why? Well I’m one of David Steele victims. I was in desperate need of legal help to protect my child, David saw an opportunity, and he demanded I pay him $3000. Cash. As I received motions and orders from court he did nothing! After weeks of emails asking him to address the legal issues, he responded by saying he was “on vacation “and I should be so lucky to have “my attorney” reply. Finally after lie on top of lie I asked for a full refund, which he refused. He then sent me “bills” for things he never did, such as, his appearance in the case and later claimed he withdrew. He never filed one document / motion for my case! When I finally demanded he refund my money he then turn to threats which scared my family for our lives. It seem unreal we couldn’t believe this guy. I am now over $100,000 in debt digging out of the legal mess he caused my family. Later I was finally able to hire another law office. I met Joe and we worked diligently on my case. I soon learn Joe had a passion for helping people. As anyone who has been through a legal battle it is exhausting. Joe was always more than happy to help or address an issue. Joe was knowledgeable about all my concerns at the same time he was able to reduce the stress and anxieties of my case. He would stay late and come in early, he always went the extra mile to help in any way he could. I can only imagine what Joe and his family has been through, my prayers go out to him and all the victims.

  2. Steele did more than what is listed too. He purposely sought out to ruin me, calling potential employers and then lied about me alleging all kinds of things including kidnapping. None of his allegations were true. If you are in need of an ethical and very knowledgeable family law paralegal, perhaps someone could post their contact information. Ethics cannot be purchased, either your paralegal has them or they do not.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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