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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. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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