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Court examines 'entry' of guilty plea withdrawal motions

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The Court of Appeals has ruled that a man convicted of not paying more than $22,000 in child support wrongly interpreted state law about withdrawing his guilty plea, and that the trial judge correctly prevented the man from doing so because he didn’t file a request in writing or justify the withdrawal.

In Thomas A. Peel v. State, No. 76A05-1012-CR-809, the appellate court upheld a judgment from Steuben Circuit Judge Allen Wheat regarding nonsupport of a dependent, a Class C felony. The state charged Peel in May 2009 for the child support arrearage of more than $15,000, and then several months later amended the information to reflect an increase in the total of more than $22,000.

Peel pleaded guilty in August 2010 and acknowledged at the plea hearing that he understood the terms of the agreement and was entering into the plea “knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily.” More than four months later, the trial court held a sentencing hearing and Peel’s attorney stated that his client wanted to withdraw the guilty plea. Though the withdrawal request wasn’t made in writing as required by Indiana Code 35-35-1-4(b), Peel’s attorney said his client had felt pressured to enter the plea agreement because his cellmate had committed suicide and that traumatic experience influenced his decision about what was in his own best interest.

The trial court denied the motion and heard sentencing arguments, then entered its judgment of conviction and sentence. The judge then issued a written order confirming its denial of Peel’s verbal plea withdrawal motion and concluded it was appropriate under IC 35-35-1-4(b).

On appeal, Peel argued that state statute doesn’t apply to his motion because the verbal request was made before the court entered judgment on the plea. Specifically, the law states that, “After entry of a plea of guilty… the court may allow the defendant by motion to withdraw his plea of guilty… for any fair and just reason unless the state has been substantially prejudiced by reliance upon the defendant’s plea.”

That statute also says the motion “shall be in writing and verified”… and that it “shall state facts in support of the relief demanded.”

Relying on an Indiana Supreme Court case a decade ago in Brightman v. State, 758 N.E. 2d 41, 44 (Ind. 2001), the appellate panel noted that statute governs motions filed “after a defendant pleads guilty but before a sentence is imposed.”

As a result, the appeals panel found Peel incorrectly interpreted the statute to say that it only applies after the “entry of judgment” on a guilty plea.”

“But the plain statutory language is broader than Peel suggests, and it applies anytime ‘after entry of a plea of guilty,’” Judge Edward Najam wrote, using Black’s Law Dictionary to determine the word “entry” means the placement of something before the court.

Peel confuses the two distinct phases of “entry” and “acceptance” of a guilty plea, the appellate panel determined.

Since the statute applied and he didn’t make it in writing as required, the appeals court determined that the trial judge correctly denied his motion. The issue is waived and the appellate court didn’t address whether the motion might have been aimed at correcting any “manifest injustice” as the state Supreme Court has determined these motions are meant to address.

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  1. Call it unauthorized law if you must, a regulatory wrong, but it was fraud and theft well beyond that, a seeming crime! "In three specific cases, the hearing officer found that Westerfield did little to no work for her clients but only issued a partial refund or no refund at all." That is theft by deception, folks. "In its decision to suspend Westerfield, the Supreme Court noted that she already had a long disciplinary history dating back to 1996 and had previously been suspended in 2004 and indefinitely suspended in 2005. She was reinstated in 2009 after finally giving the commission a response to the grievance for which she was suspended in 2004." WOW -- was the Indiana Supreme Court complicit in her fraud? Talk about being on notice of a real bad actor .... "Further, the justices noted that during her testimony, Westerfield was “disingenuous and evasive” about her relationship with Tope and attempted to distance herself from him. They also wrote that other aggravating factors existed in Westerfield’s case, such as her lack of remorse." WOW, and yet she only got 18 months on the bench, and if she shows up and cries for them in a year and a half, and pays money to JLAP for group therapy ... back in to ride roughshod over hapless clients (or are they "marks") once again! Aint Hoosier lawyering a great money making adventure!!! Just live for the bucks, even if filthy lucre, and come out a-ok. ME on the other hand??? Lifetime banishment for blowing the whistle on unconstitutional governance. Yes, had I ripped off clients or had ANY disciplinary history for doing that I would have fared better, most likely, as that it would have revealed me motivated by Mammon and not Faith. Check it out if you doubt my reading of this, compare and contrast the above 18 months with my lifetime banishment from court, see appendix for Bar Examiners report which the ISC adopted without substantive review: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS

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