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COA sides with pro se defendant in murder case

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled that a trial court erred when it accepted a man’s guilty plea to murder, because the defendant had at the same time claimed his innocence.

In the case of Stacey R. Huddleston, Jr., v. State of Indiana , No.  20A05-1012-PC-813, Stacey Huddleston appealed the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, stating that his guilty plea was not entered knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily, and that he wished to proceed pro se, due to ineffective counsel. He filed the same appeal in March 2010, but the PCR court denied his request. Huddleston now appeals, pro se.

In December 2004, Huddleston’s cousin, Ronald White, called to say that someone had broken into his apartment and stolen Huddleston’s video game system. Huddleston went to White’s apartment with the intent of fighting the suspected burglar – 15-year-old S.G.

Huddleston said he thought his cousin had intended to scare S.G., when White, standing outside, asked Huddleston to go back into the apartment and get his knife. White, Huddleston, and S.G. walked to a store, and White hit S.G. in the face with a soda can. S.G. ran, and White caught up with him, stabbing him once in the back and killing him. Huddleston ran away.

In January 2005, Huddleston was charged with murder. On the morning that the third day of trial was set to begin, Sept. 21, 2005, Huddleston pleaded guilty on advice of counsel. The factual basis for the plea consisted solely of Huddleston being questioned by the deputy prosecutor.

During questioning with the deputy prosecutor, Huddleston said he did not think his cousin was capable of murdering someone and never suspected that would be the outcome when he gave White the knife. Huddleston, responding to a question, agreed that he understood that as an accessory, he was guilty of the crime of murder.

The trial court questioned him further about the guilty plea, and when asked if he had knowingly participated in the murder, Huddleston said, “Yeah. I was there. Yes, sir. I was there, yes, sir.” The court subsequently accepted the guilty plea, sentencing Huddleston to 50 years. On direct appeal, the court affirmed the sentence.

In his most recent appeal, Huddleston contended that by insisting during the guilty plea factual basis hearing that he did not know or intend that S.G. would be killed, the trial court should not have accepted his guilty plea, pursuant to the holdings in Harshman v. State, 232 Ind. 618, 115 N.E.2d 501 (1953), and Ross v. State, 456 N.E.2d 420 (Ind. 1983). In Harshman, the Supreme Court held, “a plea of guilty tendered by one who in the same breath protests his innocence, or declares he actually does not know whether or not he is guilty, is no plea at all. Certainly it is not a sufficient plea upon which to base a judgment of conviction.”

The appeals court wrote that the state has not directly responded to Huddleston’s argument that the trial court’s acceptance of his guilty plea violated the Ross/Harshman rule.

“We cannot conclude that Huddleston’s ultimate ‘yes’ to the question of whether he was guilty of murder was sufficient to override his earlier statements expressly denying the requisite culpability for murder,” the COA wrote.

The court held that the trial court erred in accepting the guilty plea and, consequently, the post-conviction court erred in denying Huddleston’s PCR petition. The appeals court remanded for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.
 

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  1. Access to the court (judiciary branch of government) is the REAL problem, NOT necessarily lack of access to an attorney. Unfortunately, I've lived in a legal and financial hell for the past six years due to a divorce (where I was, supposedly, represented by an attorney) in which I was defrauded of settlement and the other party (and helpers) enriched through the fraud. When I attempted to introduce evidence and testify (pro se) in a foreclosure/eviction, I was silenced (apparently on procedural grounds, as research I've done since indicates). I was thrown out of a residence which was to be sold, by a judge who refused to allow me to speak in (the supposedly "informal") small claims court where the eviction proceeding (by ex-brother-in-law) was held. Six years and I can't even get back on solid or stable ground ... having bank account seized twice, unlawfully ... and now, for the past year, being dragged into court - again, contrary to law and appellate decisions - by former attorney, who is trying to force payment from exempt funds. Friday will mark fifth appearance. Hopefully, I'll be allowed to speak. The situation I find myself in shouldn't even be possible, much less dragging out with no end in sight, for years. I've done nothing wrong, but am watching a lot of wrong being accomplished under court jurisdiction; only because I was married to someone who wanted and was granted a divorce (but was not willing to assume the responsibilities that come with granting the divorce). In fact, the recalcitrant party was enriched by well over $100k, although it was necessarily split with other actors. Pro bono help? It's a nice dream ... but that's all it is, for too many. Meanwhile, injustice marches on.

  2. Both sites mentioned in the article appear to be nonfunctional to date (March 28, 2017). http://indianalegalanswers.org/ returns a message stating the "server is taking too long to respond" and http://www.abafreelegalasnswers.org/ "can't find the server". Although this does not surprise me, it is disheartening to know that access to the judicial branch of government remains out of reach for too many citizens (for procedural rather than meritorious reasons) of Indiana. Any updates regarding this story?

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