`

COA rejects declaratory relief petition challenging molestation convictions

July 12, 2017

A southern Indiana man cannot seek declaratory relief after he was convicted on multiple counts of child molesting because the Indiana Court of Appeals found his challenge to be an attempt to circumvent Indiana’s established appellate procedures.

In James E. Saylor v. State of Indiana, 39A01-1701-MI-90, Saylor was found guilty in 2007 of two counts of Class A felony child molesting, one count of Class B felony vicarious sexual gratification and one count of Class D felony intimidation. He also pleaded guilty to a habitual offender charge and was sentenced to an aggregate of 138 years.

Saylor’s 2014 petition for post-conviction relief was denied by the Jefferson Circuit Court, and the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed on all counts except for the habitual offender adjudication, finding he did not personally waive his right to a jury trial on that count. The habitual offender adjudication was vacated, and the case was remanded for a new trial on that count.

A few months after the Court of Appeals ruling, Saylor filed a petition for declaratory judgment that challenged the existence of probable cause for his arrest. Specifically, Saylor sought a declaratory judgment that said absent a valid showing of probable cause, he had a right to immediate release.

The state moved for summary judgment on the pleadings, and the trial court granted that motion. Saylor then appealed pro se, claiming that the trial court erred by granting the motion for judgment on the pleadings without first hold an evidentiary hearing.

But in a Wednesday opinion, Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Edward Najam wrote the state moved for judgment on the pleadings without reference to any outside matters, so the court accepts as true the material facts alleged in the complaint. Further, the Rule 12(C) motion is treated as a Rule 12(B)(6) motion, so the court looks at the face of the complaint and, thus, is not required to hold an evidentiary hearing, Najam said.

Saylor also challenged the merits of the trial court’s order granting the motion for judgment on the pleadings, but Najam wrote there was no error in the order and that “(i)t is clear from the face of Saylor’s complaint that under no circumstances could the relief he sought be granted.”

Specifically, Saylor’s complaint sought declarations as to his “right” to immediate release, but Najam wrote any further challenge to the judgment in Saylor’s criminal case must be made through a successive petition for post-conviction relief. However, Saylor has not been authorized to file a successive petition, but instead “is attempting to circumvent Indiana’s established procedures for challenging criminal convictions”, the judge wrote.

Saylor, however, argued that he only sought a declaration of his rights, not a challenge of his convictions, but the appellate panel found Saylor’s challenge clearly addressed his convictions and that the relief he sought is not available under the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act. Thus, Saylor’s convictions were affirmed.  


 

ADVERTISEMENT

Recent Articles by Olivia Covington