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COA: Destroyed tape doesn't make record silent

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The premature destruction of a tape of a guilty plea hearing by court staff doesn't render the record silent for purposes of Boykin, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Monday. As a result, the appellate court reversed the grant of post-conviction relief to a defendant who claimed the destruction of his 1991 guilty plea hearing tape prevented meaningful review of the plea.

In State of Indiana v. Mark Damron, No. 49A04-0901-PC-29, the state appealed the post-conviction court's decision that a destroyed record is by its very definition silent, and that a waiver of Boykin rights, Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238, 89 S. Ct. 1709 (1969), can't be presumed from a silent record.

Mark Damron pleaded guilty to Class D felony operating a vehicle while intoxicated in 1991; in January 2007, he filed his petition for post-conviction relief alleging his guilty plea wasn't knowing, voluntary, or intelligent because the trial court didn't keep a record of his guilty plea hearing. The tape of hearing was destroyed after 10 years, although the Indiana Rules of Criminal Procedure state that misdemeanor records can be destroyed after 10 years and felonies should be maintained for 55 years.

Boykin said courts can't presume a waiver of important federal rights from a silent record, but in Hall v. State, 849 N.E.2d 466, 469, (Ind. 2006), the Indiana Supreme Court said that a lost record is not the per se equivalent of a silent record.

The Court of Appeals concluded as in Parke v. Raley, 506 U.S. 20, 113 S. Ct. 517 (1992), Damron was collaterally attacking his guilty plea. Parke ruled that "it defies logic to presume from the mere unavailability of a transcript... that the defendant was not advised of his rights."

"It appears that the trial court had a policy of destroying tapes after ten years, and without more we cannot equate this policy, although in contravention of the Indiana Rules of Criminal Procedure, to governmental misconduct," wrote Judge Michael Barnes regarding Damron's case. "Given these facts, we cannot conclude that the presumption of regularity should not apply here."

Damron also failed to carry his burden of proof that he wasn't informed of his Boykin rights.

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