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Court reverses decision denying trial counsel appointment

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has determined a Jay Superior judge didn’t look at a defendant’s “total financial picture” when assessing his need for a court-appointed attorney. It has ordered a new indigency evaluation and trial for the misdemeanor battery charge.

A three-judge panel ruled today in Zachariah D. Reese v. State of Indiana, No. 38A05-1104-CR-171, reversing and remanding the case from Jay Superior Judge Max C. Ludy Jr.

Reese had been charged in 2010 with battery resulting in bodily injury, and at an initial hearing the 25-year-old requested the court appoint an attorney to represent him. He told the judge about his $7.25 an hour job at a fast food restaurant and how he had little money after his rent, bills, and necessary expenses. The judge denied his request for court-appointed counsel after determining Reese wasn’t “totally without funds in order to hire an attorney” and that he should have some money left over each week to put toward a lawyer.

Four months later, Reese renewed his request and told the court that he had taken a new higher-paying job but had been laid off and was without any income. Reese said he wasn’t able to save any money to hire an attorney and that he wasn’t going to immediately receive any tax refund money because he didn’t file electronically. The court continued the bench trial for the end of March and ordered that Reese use some of the $1,500 tax refund he expected to put toward an attorney.

Reese didn’t have an attorney at the trial on March 30, and the court found him guilty of battery and sentenced him to one year, with all but 90 days suspended for probation. The judge then conducted an indigency hearing for appeal, and after listening to testimony found Reese was indigent and appointed appellate counsel.

Looking at Reese’s situation and how the court inquired about his finances at all the hearings, the appellate court found the judge should have done a more thorough job in assessing indigency. Specifically, the trial court didn’t inquire in February about the bills Reese had to pay and instead focused on the fact that Reese hadn’t saved any money since the initial hearing.

The court relied on Redmond v. State, 518 N.E. 2d 1095, 1095 (Ind. 1988) and Hall v. State, 826 N.E.2d 99, 105 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005), dealing with indigency and trial court discretion in appointing counsel.

“While we are reluctant to override a trial court’s determination of a criminal defendant’s indigency, it is apparent from the record that Reese lacked the resources to employ an attorney,” Judge Elaine Brown wrote for the panel, which included Judges John Baker and James Kirsch. “In short, ordering Reese to retain private counsel in his circumstances would indeed result in a substantial financial hardship. Based upon the record and Reese’s ‘total financial picture,’ we conclude that the trial court erred in refusing to appoint trial counsel to represent him.”


 

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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