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Court split on ineffective trial counsel

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A panel of Indiana Court of Appeals judges disagreed that an attorney was ineffective because the majority found the attorney told her client he "should" win the case whereas one judge pointed out in the record the attorney admitted to telling the client he "would" win.

"Based upon the record, I conclude that Rowe demonstrated that his trial counsel's ineffective performance affected the outcome of the plea process and that there is a reasonable probability that, but for trial counsel's errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different," wrote Judge Elaine Brown in her dissent in Terry Rowe, Jr. v. State of Indiana, No. 32A04-0904-PC-186.

Terry Rowe was charged with two counts of Class B felony dealing in cocaine and one count of Class A felony dealing in cocaine after he purchased drugs from a confidential informant. There were police video and audio tapes of the controlled buys. After the confidential informant died, the state offered Rowe a plea agreement. On the advice of his counsel, he declined. He was convicted in a bench trial and given a longer sentence than the plea agreement offered.

His attorney - who was just out of law school and hadn't tried a Class A felony case - told Rowe she thought it would be difficult for the state to prove its case without the informant. According to the record, she testified she told Rowe that he "should" win the case and that he "would" win the case.

The majority agreed with post-conviction court's denial of Rowe's petition for relief because there's evidence to support the post-conviction court's finding the attorney's performance was reasonable, wrote Judge Terry Crone. The judge noted that different interpretations of the record are possible, but the majority couldn't say the post-conviction court's findings and conclusions were clearly erroneous.

Judge Brown wrote Rowe's trial counsel didn't adequately investigate his case and told him that he'd win. In addition to the record showing the attorney testifying she said Rowe would win the case, she also admitted she didn't depose any members of the Drug Task Force before telling Rowe he'd be successful at trial.

Rowe testified he rejected the agreement based on his attorney's advice and if he knew he could have been convicted based on the evidence he would have accepted the plea agreement.

The appellate court also addressed the state's argument that to establish prejudice, Rowe must show that he would have accepted the plea agreement had he known there was a possibility of conviction without the confidential informant, and the trial court would have accepted the plea agreement. Citing Lessig v. State, 489 N.E.2d 978, 983 (Ind. Ct. App. 1986), the Court of Appeals, without addressing the merits as applied to the instant case, held the correct reading of Lessig is that a defendant must put forth evidence that the trial court is legally permitted to accept his plea agreement.

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