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Appeals court upholds allowing represented defendant to argue pro se

September 24, 2013

A criminal defendant represented by counsel who unsuccessfully argued on his own to withdraw a guilty plea to a Class A felony charge of dealing cocaine had a burden of proving manifest injustice, which he failed to do, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

The court affirmed a ruling by Tippecanoe Superior Judge Randy J. Williams denying a motion to withdraw the plea in Jerome Milian v. State of Indiana, 79A02-1302-CR-197. Milian was sentenced to 33 years in prison, with 26 years executed, and was found to be a habitual substance offender.

Williams allowed Milian to proceed with the pro se motion to withdraw his plea, in which Milian said he was misled into believing he was pleading to a Class B felony rather than a Class A felony. The judge held a hearing at which Milian argued his motion while his attorney sat in as stand-by counsel.

An appeals panel rejected Milian’s argument that the trial court abused its discretion by allowing him to represent himself in the hearing on his plea-withdrawal motion.  

“Milian received multiple advisements and admonishments from the trial court regarding his rights, and in particular, his right to representation by counsel. Milian has failed to meet his burden of establishing that the trial court abused its discretion. Consequently, we find no error here,” Judge James Kirsch wrote for the panel that also included Chief Judge Margaret Robb and Judge Patricia Riley.

The court record of Milian’s guilty plea hearing worked against his pro se motion.

“Milian stated for the record that he was happy with his legal representation and the services his attorney had provided. Milian affirmed that the plea agreement contained the terms he understood were to be included. The description of the offense that was read to Milian at the guilty plea hearing included the element that the crime occurred within 1000 feet of a housing complex, and the probable cause affidavit for that count, which also includes that allegation, was sworn to by Milian,” Kirsch wrote.  

“In sum, all three veins along which Milian sought to withdraw his guilty plea, were rebutted by verified evidence in the record, and Milian failed to show manifest injustice,” the panel held.

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