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COA disagrees on reason to grant appeal

October 6, 2008

The Indiana Court of Appeals unanimously reversed the revocation of a man's probation but disagreed as to the manner in which the appellate court was authorized to do so.

In Cornelius Cooper v. State of Indiana, 49A02-0709-CR-780, Judges Melissa May, Paul Mathias, and Nancy Vaidik reached the same conclusion: that Cornelius Cooper was denied due process at his probation revocation hearing.

Judges May and Mathias believed Cooper's case qualified for appellate review even though he didn't timely appeal his revocation order. These judges believe the case is a matter of great public interest. Judge May wrote the facts of Cooper's case are extraordinary because the trial judge told him he'd go back on probation if he hadn't been convicted of the domestic violence charges on which the probation revocation was based. The domestic violence charges were later dropped. Cooper asked the trial court to reconsider the revocation, which the court denied.

The appellate court wrote the record doesn't reflect Cooper was advised of his right to appeal. The majority believed the fact that Cooper was denied due process was a fundamental error that allowed the Court of Appeals to review Cooper's appeal. The appellate court reversed the denial of his motion to reconsider and remanded for a probation revocation hearing.

Judge Vaidik concurred in result in a separate opinion but made an argument that the appellate court should have reviewed Cooper's appeal under Indiana Post-Conviction Rule 2. She wrote because he wasn't at fault for the belated appeal of his probation revocation and because he had been diligent in pursuing an appeal of the revocation, he's entitled to a belated appeal under Post-Conviction Rule 2.

Judge Vaidik noted the disagreement in the Court of Appeals on whether a probation revocation order is appealable under this rule, but she believes that right exists.

"... we have concluded in the past that the imposition of a modified sentence carries with it the right to belatedly appeal pursuant to Indiana Post-Conviction Rule 2," she wrote. "It makes sense to treat probation revocations similarly for the purpose of allowing belated appeals."

Judge Vaidik also wrote about her concern that by reviewing the merits of an appeal on grounds other than Post-Conviction Rule 2, the appellate court is sending the wrong message to practitioners that the court is prepared to pick up an appeal regardless of its timeliness, without strictly adhering to Post-Conviction Rule 2.

"By ignoring these requirements in some cases, we create arbitrariness in the system, and arbitrariness denies litigants notice of when and how we will apply our own rules," she wrote.

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