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Court reverses conviction over letter

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A man's convictions of criminal mischief and operating while intoxicated were reversed by the Indiana Court of Appeals because a letter he wrote while trying to negotiate a plea agreement - which was rejected - shouldn't have been admitted at his trial.

In Gabino Gonzalez v. State of Indiana, No. 82A01-0809-CR-406, Gabino Gonzalez argued the admittance of the letter was an error because it was hearsay and should be inadmissible because it was part of guilty plea negotiations. Gonzalez wrote a letter to the school corporation of the school bus he hit after running a stop sign. In the letter, he apologized for the accident and admitted he drank the day of the accident. He also asked the school corporation to show him compassion.

The trial court took Gonzalez's plea agreement under advisement and reset its sentencing date to allow the school corporation time to decide whether to object the plea agreement. The trial court rejected the agreement and the letter was admitted into evidence over Gonzalez's objection.

His letter was a privileged communication that shouldn't have been admitted into evidence because it was written as part of the plea negotiation process based on Indiana Code Section 35-35-3-4 and Ind. Evidence Rule 410, wrote Judge Melissa May.

The judge noted Rule 410 provides no test for determining whether a statement was made "in connection with" a plea offer. The Court of Appeals used Gilliam v. State, 650 N.E.2d 45, 49 (Ind. Ct. App. 1995), and Stephens v. State, 588 N.E.2d 564, 566 (Ind. Ct. App. 1992), to support its holding the letter shouldn't have been admitted at trial.

"Gonzalez's letter to the School was akin to Stephens' statement to the pre-sentence investigator, as it included 'information concerning the "circumstances attending the commission of the offense,"' and it undoubtedly had 'as its ultimate purpose the reduction of punishment or other favorable treatment from the State to the defendant,'" wrote the judge.

The appellate court also found Mundt v. State, 612 N.E.2d 566, 568 (Ind. Ct. App. 1993), to be distinguishable from the instant case because the sentencing court effectively introduced another party - the school corporation - into the plea negotiation process. Mundt's testimony regarding the accomplice came after he and the state reached a plea agreement. Once the plea negotiations ended, the protections of I.C. Section 35-35-3-4 were rendered inapplicable, she wrote.

The admittance of the letter also wasn't a harmless error as the state contended, because the letter was tantamount to a confession. The letter likely had a significant effect on the jury and its admission was reversible error even if there was other evidence before the jury that could support the conviction, wrote Judge May.

The case was remanded for a new trial.

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  1. I gave tempparry guardship to a friend of my granddaughter in 2012. I went to prison. I had custody. My daughter went to prison to. We are out. My daughter gave me custody but can get her back. She was not order to give me custody . but now we want granddaughter back from friend. She's 14 now. What rights do we have

  2. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  3. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

  4. Here's an idea...how about we MORE heavily regulate the law schools to reduce the surplus of graduates, driving starting salaries up for those new grads, so that we can all pay our insane amount of student loans off in a reasonable amount of time and then be able to afford to do pro bono & low-fee work? I've got friends in other industries, radiology for example, and their schools accept a very limited number of students so there will never be a glut of new grads and everyone's pay stays high. For example, my radiologist friend's school accepted just six new students per year.

  5. I totally agree with John Smith.

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