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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. OK, now do something about this preverted anacronism

  2. William Hartley prosecutor of Wabash county constantly violates people rights. Withholds statement's, is bias towards certain people. His actions have ruined lives and families. In this county you question him or go out of town for a lawyer,he finds a way to make things worse for you. Unfair,biased and crooked.

  3. why is the State trying to play GOD? Automatic sealing of a record is immoral. People should have the right to decide how to handle a record. the state is playing GOD. I have searched for decades, then you want me to pay someone a huge price to contact my son. THIS is extortion and gestapo control. OPEN THE RECORDS NOW. OPEN THE RECORDS NOW. OPEN THE RECORDS NOW.

  4. I haven't made some of the best choices in the last two years I have been to marion county jail 1 and two on three different occasions each time of release dates I've spent 48 to 72 hours after date of release losing a job being denied my freedom after ordered please help

  5. Out here in Kansas, where I now work as a government attorney, we are nearing the end of a process that could have relevance in this matter: "Senate Bill 45 would allow any adult otherwise able to possess a handgun under state and federal laws to carry that gun concealed as a matter of course without a permit. This move, commonly called constitutional carry, would elevate the state to the same club that Vermont, Arizona, Alaska and Wyoming have joined in the past generation." More reading here: http://www.guns.com/2015/03/18/kansas-house-panel-goes-all-in-on-constitutional-carry-measure/ Time to man up, Hoosiers. (And I do not mean that in a sexist way.)

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