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Court erred in denying court-appointed counsel

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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a man's convictions because the trial court failed to adequately ascertain whether he was indigent for purposes of court-appointed counsel.

In Bradley G. Shively v. State of Indiana, No. 12A02-0903-CR-235, Bradley Shively requested a court-appointed attorney at his initial hearing on charges of domestic battery, criminal confinement, and battery. The trial court denied his request at the initial hearing after asking how much money he made, if he had a house or car, and how much money he had in his checking account.

Shively moved to continue his trial and again asked for a court-appointed attorney. A different judge also denied his request. Shively proceeded pro se and was convicted on the charges.

Before sentencing, the trial judge that held the first indigency hearing conducted a more in-depth examination of Shively's finances and then appointed him counsel for sentencing.

While there is no set specific financial guideline for the determination of indigency, the trial court should have done a more thorough inspection of Shively's finances at his first hearing, the appellate court ruled. Both hearings provided just a rough estimate of his finances, and the record shows at his second hearing, Shively's financial situation was much worse. There weren't discussions of his obligations to his children, any debt payments or other fixed obligations, wrote Judge Michael Barnes.

The judge noted it's telling that Shively was appointed counsel after trial but before sentencing and found indigent for the purposes of this appeal. There doesn't appear to be any changes to his financial status between the second pre-trial hearing and the indigency hearing that happened after trial.

"If Shively was indigent for purposes of sentencing and appeal, it is difficult to perceive why he was not indigent for purposes of trial; there does not appear to have been any marked changed in Shively's financial status, particularly between the second pre-trial indigency hearing and the post-trial hearing," he wrote. "Although we understand the reluctance of a trial court to appoint an attorney for one who may be 'gaming the system,' in this instance we do not believe sufficient care was given to a close examination of Shively's financial situation."

Judge Barnes wrote as the case stands now, Shively is still indigent and should be considered so for the purposes of further proceedings on remand unless there is evidence his financial situation has markedly improved.

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