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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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