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Court rules on public defender fee imposition

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has decided that a state statute’s indigency hearing requirement doesn’t apply when a defendant has entered into a cash bail-bond agreement, meaning a trial court can use that bond money to pay court costs such as the imposed public defender fee.

A unanimous ruling came Friday in Lisa R. Wright v. State of Indiana, No. 57A03-1010-CR-570, affirming a ruling by the Noble Circuit Court.

Wright had pleaded guilty to Class B felony methamphetamine dealing and posted a cash bail-bond agreement pursuant to Indiana Code 35-33-8-3.2(a)(2), depositing 10 percent of the $10,000 bond. The agreement said the trial court could use that money to pay fines, fees, and costs in the event she failed to show up or was convicted. She requested and was appointed a public defender and ended up pleading guilty and receiving a six-year sentence. The court subsequently ordered that the escrow money from what she’d paid for bond be used to pay various costs, such as the $100 public defender fee.

On appeal, Wright argued the trial court didn’t explicitly find that she could pay the fee imposed and that it hadn’t held a hearing to determine whether she was actually indigent. The state argued that she ignored the fact that the public defender fee was paid from the $1,000 bond, per the agreement she’d entered.

The appellate panel looked at the state statutes, and determined the trial court didn’t err in how it used the money without a holding a hearing because Wright had entered into a contract through the agreement and that stood.

Though Wright cited a 2006 case from the intermediate appellate court, this panel found that state statute had been amended since to specifically allow for trial judges to do what happened in Wright’s case.

“A plain reading of Section 35-33-8-3.2(a)(2) as amended leads us to the conclusion that the absence of language requiring an indigency hearing means that when a bail bond agreement is executed, such a hearing is not required,” the court wrote.

“Moreover, to impose the hearing requirement of Section 33-37-2-3(a) where a defendant executed an agreement pursuant to Section 35-33-8-3.2(a)(2), would render the bail bond agreement meaningless. In addition, this Court has recognized that when a defendant posts a cash bail bond pursuant to Indiana Code Section 35-33-8-3.2, the trial court has authority to impose public defender costs.”

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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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