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Man entitled to warning that conduct may waive right to counsel

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has reversed the finding that a man charged with murder is no longer indigent and that his difficult behavior caused him to waive or forfeit his right to appointed counsel. The appellate court concluded that the judge considered the defendant’s conduct, not his ability to pay, when finding him no longer indigent.

Stephen Gilmore was charged with murder in 2005. His first trial was declared a mistrial and he was able to post a cash bond. Gilmore received two court-appointed attorneys at that trial and expressed displeasure at the time with his attorneys, among other things.

When he was up for retrial in 2006, the two original attorneys filed a motion to withdraw representation, citing a major breakdown in the attorney-client relationship. Several other court-appointed attorneys, including one from another county, eventually filed motions to withdraw their appointments, citing major disagreements in trial strategy and breakdowns in communication. Gilmore continually requested a new court-appointed attorney after the previous ones had withdrawn.

In January 2009, the trial court decided to review Gilmore’s indigency status and found no changes, but in September 2010, the trial court issued an order finding he was no longer indigent. The judge also said he waived his right to counsel by his “obstreperous conduct.” The judge noted the cases raise the question of whether there are limits on one’s right to indigent counsel.

At the September 2010 hearing, the judge noted that Gilmore’s income from Social Security was in excess of Federal Poverty Guidelines, his home’s property was assessed at $54,000, and the attorney fees for his first trial were $21,000. But the judge went on to say that a court must also consider a defendant’s conduct and behavior when re-evaluating indigency.

The appellate court was troubled by this statement because “it indicates that the trial court based its indigency determination in whole or in part on its assessment of Gilmore’s conduct, not his financial condition. We have found no such requirement with regard to an indigency status determination,” wrote Judge James Kirsch in Stephen L. Gilmore v. State of Indiana, No. 40A01-1011-CR-553.

Having found that Gilmore’s assets and income were insufficient for him to afford to pay for his own attorney, the court can’t then reverse its decision without finding a change in circumstances since its earlier decision or determining the previous decision was an error, wrote the judge.

Regarding his right to court-appointed counsel, the COA agreed with the trial court that although a defendant has a right to an attorney, if indigent, he doesn’t have the right to abuse it. Gilmore’s conduct appears to be along the line of a waiver by conduct or forfeiture with knowledge. Because of this, he’s entitled to a hearing during which he should be warned that if his difficult behavior persists, the trial court will find he has chosen self-representation by his own conduct.

“While not condoning Gilmore’s apparent obstreperous conduct, because those warnings were not given to Gilmore, we conclude that the trial court erred by finding that Gilmore had waived his right to counsel,” he wrote.

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  • Well that's one side if this story...
    what about the other side--Mr. Gilmore's side? I understand that he has posted his side of the story, which apparently did not violate the comments policy, yet you removed his comments. Why? I think his comments help to round out the "mental picture" of this case...a case in which Mr. Gilmore has basically been railroaded from the beginning. He deserves to be heard.

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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