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COA upholds denial of post-conviction relief

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The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed with the post-conviction court that a defendant didn’t receive ineffective assistance of trial counsel, finding the man had no right to the effective assistance of counsel at the time he gave a statement to police in front of the attorney.

James Oberst was charged with two counts of sexual misconduct with a minor in 1998 and later convicted. The Court of Appeals reversed one of his convictions and ordered he be re-sentenced. In 2008, Oberst filed a petition for post-conviction relief, claiming his trial counsel was ineffective on several grounds.

 When Oberst gave his statement to the police detective in December 1998, he hadn’t been charged yet with a crime. Oberst’s attorney on an unrelated criminal matter happened to be at the sheriff’s department on the day he went in to speak with the detective, and the attorney agreed to help Oberst in the instant matter. Oberst signed a waiver of rights and admitted to having sex with the victim. His attorney in the unrelated matter was later appointed to defend him in the sexual misconduct case.

In James K. Oberst v. State of Indiana, No. 14A05-1003-PC-157, Oberst argued that his attorney should have somehow stopped him from confessing during the interview. But the Sixth Amendment right to counsel is activated at the initiation of adversary criminal proceedings, noted Judge Nancy Vaidik.

“And because Oberst did not have the Sixth Amendment right to counsel during the December 2 interview, it does not matter what trial counsel did or did not do during that interview. In other words, Oberst did not have the right to effective representation during that interview,” she wrote.

The judges also rejected Oberst’s arguments that his trial counsel was ineffective by not conducting an adequate pretrial investigation. Oberst couldn’t establish ineffective assistance on this issue or on his claims of trial ineffectiveness. Oberst argued the trial counsel should have withdrawn as his counsel at the beginning of the trial when Oberst indicated he wanted to fire the attorney for failing to file a notice of alibi. But the trial court resolved the matter by allowing the alibi witness, so he had no reason to fire his trial counsel, wrote the judge.

As with his other arguments, the appellate judges found Oberst didn’t provide sufficient evidence to support his ineffective assistance claim.

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