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COA sides with pro se defendant in murder case

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled that a trial court erred when it accepted a man’s guilty plea to murder, because the defendant had at the same time claimed his innocence.

In the case of Stacey R. Huddleston, Jr., v. State of Indiana , No.  20A05-1012-PC-813, Stacey Huddleston appealed the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, stating that his guilty plea was not entered knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily, and that he wished to proceed pro se, due to ineffective counsel. He filed the same appeal in March 2010, but the PCR court denied his request. Huddleston now appeals, pro se.

In December 2004, Huddleston’s cousin, Ronald White, called to say that someone had broken into his apartment and stolen Huddleston’s video game system. Huddleston went to White’s apartment with the intent of fighting the suspected burglar – 15-year-old S.G.

Huddleston said he thought his cousin had intended to scare S.G., when White, standing outside, asked Huddleston to go back into the apartment and get his knife. White, Huddleston, and S.G. walked to a store, and White hit S.G. in the face with a soda can. S.G. ran, and White caught up with him, stabbing him once in the back and killing him. Huddleston ran away.

In January 2005, Huddleston was charged with murder. On the morning that the third day of trial was set to begin, Sept. 21, 2005, Huddleston pleaded guilty on advice of counsel. The factual basis for the plea consisted solely of Huddleston being questioned by the deputy prosecutor.

During questioning with the deputy prosecutor, Huddleston said he did not think his cousin was capable of murdering someone and never suspected that would be the outcome when he gave White the knife. Huddleston, responding to a question, agreed that he understood that as an accessory, he was guilty of the crime of murder.

The trial court questioned him further about the guilty plea, and when asked if he had knowingly participated in the murder, Huddleston said, “Yeah. I was there. Yes, sir. I was there, yes, sir.” The court subsequently accepted the guilty plea, sentencing Huddleston to 50 years. On direct appeal, the court affirmed the sentence.

In his most recent appeal, Huddleston contended that by insisting during the guilty plea factual basis hearing that he did not know or intend that S.G. would be killed, the trial court should not have accepted his guilty plea, pursuant to the holdings in Harshman v. State, 232 Ind. 618, 115 N.E.2d 501 (1953), and Ross v. State, 456 N.E.2d 420 (Ind. 1983). In Harshman, the Supreme Court held, “a plea of guilty tendered by one who in the same breath protests his innocence, or declares he actually does not know whether or not he is guilty, is no plea at all. Certainly it is not a sufficient plea upon which to base a judgment of conviction.”

The appeals court wrote that the state has not directly responded to Huddleston’s argument that the trial court’s acceptance of his guilty plea violated the Ross/Harshman rule.

“We cannot conclude that Huddleston’s ultimate ‘yes’ to the question of whether he was guilty of murder was sufficient to override his earlier statements expressly denying the requisite culpability for murder,” the COA wrote.

The court held that the trial court erred in accepting the guilty plea and, consequently, the post-conviction court erred in denying Huddleston’s PCR petition. The appeals court remanded for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.
 

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  1. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  2. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  3. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  4. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

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