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High court vacates post-conviction relief petition

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Although the Indiana Supreme Court vacated the post-conviction court's grant of a petition for relief, it remanded the issue to determine if it should be granted on other grounds raised in the petition.

In State of Indiana v. Michael A. Cozart, No. 22S01-0803-PC-145, the post-conviction court granted Michael Cozart's petition for relief after ruling that because the trial court didn't advise him that his sentence could not be suspended below the statutory minimum, his guilty plea couldn't have been entered knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily.

Cozart had agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to deal in cocaine as a Class A felony so the state would drop his remaining drug charges; the agreement was described as a "blind plea" and called for "open sentencing."

The trial court advised Cozart on the sentence for a Class A felony, including the maximum and minimum sentences, depending on mitigating and aggravating circumstances. Cozart was lead to believe by his attorney that by having open sentencing, the judge could reduce his sentence below the 20-year minimum. However, since he had a prior unrelated felony conviction, statute requires the minimum sentence to be 20 years.

Cozart objected at sentencing to the 20-year sentence and filed a motion to correct error; the motion was denied. Cozart filed a petition for post-conviction relief asking to set aside his plea and vacate his conviction on three grounds: the plea was involuntarily entered because he didn't know of the minimum or maximum sentences that could be imposed; he received ineffective assistance of counsel; and the trial court erred in failing to allow him to withdraw his guilty plea.

The record shows the trial court didn't tell Cozart his sentence couldn't be suspended below the statutory minimum, wrote Justice Robert Rucker, but the court wasn't statutorily required to do so. Because the trial court advised him of only the rights dictated by statute or required by the state or federal constitution, the post-conviction court erred in vacating Cozart's conviction and setting aside his guilty plea on those grounds, wrote Justice Rucker.

However, Cozart may be entitled to relief under his petition on the other grounds he raised, the justice wrote.

"In this case limiting its findings to the adequacy of the trial court's advisements, the post-conviction court did not address and thus made no findings on Cozart's claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, or Cozart's claim of trial court error in denying his motion to withdraw his guilty plea," wrote Justice Rucker. "Both claims require resolution of possibly competing factual inferences, which appellate courts are in no position to resolve."

The Supreme Court remanded to the post-conviction court for an entry of findings of fact and conclusions of law addressing the remaining claims in his petition for relief.

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  1. Family court judges never fail to surprise me with their irrational thinking. First of all any man who abuses his wife is not fit to be a parent. A man who can't control his anger should not be allowed around his child unsupervised period. Just because he's never been convicted of abusing his child doesn't mean he won't and maybe he hasn't but a man that has such poor judgement and control is not fit to parent without oversight - only a moron would think otherwise. Secondly, why should the mother have to pay? He's the one who made the poor decisions to abuse and he should be the one to pay the price - monetarily and otherwise. Yes it's sad that the little girl may be deprived of her father, but really what kind of father is he - the one that abuses her mother the one that can't even step up and do what's necessary on his own instead the abused mother is to pay for him???? What is this Judge thinking? Another example of how this world rewards bad behavior and punishes those who do right. Way to go Judge - NOT.

  2. Right on. Legalize it. We can take billions away from the drug cartels and help reduce violence in central America and more unwanted illegal immigration all in one fell swoop. cut taxes on the savings from needless incarcerations. On and stop eroding our fourth amendment freedom or whatever's left of it.

  3. "...a switch from crop production to hog production "does not constitute a significant change."??? REALLY?!?! Any judge that cannot see a significant difference between a plant and an animal needs to find another line of work.

  4. Why do so many lawyers get away with lying in court, Jamie Yoak?

  5. Future generations will be amazed that we prosecuted people for possessing a harmless plant. The New York Times came out in favor of legalization in Saturday's edition of the newspaper.

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