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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. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  2. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  3. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

  4. The sad thing is that no fish were thrown overboard The "greenhorn" who had never fished before those 5 days was interrogated for over 4 hours by 5 officers until his statement was illicited, "I don't want to go to prison....." The truth is that these fish were measured frozen off shore and thawed on shore. The FWC (state) officer did not know fish shrink, so the only reason that these fish could be bigger was a swap. There is no difference between a 19 1/2 fish or 19 3/4 fish, short fish is short fish, the ticket was written. In addition the FWC officer testified at trial, he does not measure fish in accordance with federal law. There was a document prepared by the FWC expert that said yes, fish shrink and if these had been measured correctly they averaged over 20 inches (offshore frozen). This was a smoke and mirror prosecution.

  5. I love this, Dave! Many congrats to you! We've come a long way from studying for the bar together! :)

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