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COA: post-conviction proceedings not equivalent to civil proceedings

January 3, 2012

The Indiana Court of Appeals has held that a post-conviction court isn’t required to accept any proffered agreement from a defendant because that type of proceeding isn’t the same as a civil hearing and the Indiana Supreme Court has given local judges final authority in accepting or denying agreements.

In Steven Jackson v. State of Indiana, No. 31A01-1109-PC-412, the three-judge appellate panel affirmed a ruling from Harrison Superior Judge  Roger Davis that partially granted a post-conviction relief petition but denied the appellant-defendant’s request to accept a proffered agreement in that hearing.

Steven Jackson pled guilty in 2007 to felony operating while intoxicated and to his status as a habitual substance offender, resulting from a prior Floyd County drunk driving conviction. While the appellate court’s record doesn’t reflect the sentence Jackson received from the trial court, Jackson was apparently placed on probation for an unspecified amount of time and in 2010 the state filed a petition to revoke his probation based on an alleged violation of operating a vehicle as a habitual traffic offender. In December 2010, Jackson’s counsel filed a PCR petition seeking to vacate his guilty pleas to his OWI conviction and habitual status enhancement. At some point, Jackson reached an agreement with the state to set aside the felony conviction and enhancement to allow him to plead guilty to public intoxication, and his sentence would be time served.

At a hearing, the post-conviction court denied the agreement in its entirety but granted Jackson’s petition, setting aside his habitual enhancement and reducing the Class D felony OWI conviction to a Class A misdemeanor.

On appeal, Jackson argued the post-conviction court had no discretion to deny his proffered agreement because in civil cases trial courts have no discretion and must accept agreed judgments as presented. He argued the court couldn’t consider the substance of the proposed agreement and it was merely required to accept it without question.

Citing Indiana Supreme Court precedent from 2001, the appellate panel disagreed with Jackson’s contention that a post-conviction proceeding is equivalent to a civil proceeding because it’s a “collateral attack on the validity of a criminal conviction.” Even if the process is civil in nature, the PCR process still stems from a criminal conviction and those rules apply.

Judge Carr Darden wrote for the unanimous panel, which also included Judges John Baker and Mark Bailey.

 

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