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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. Just an aside, but regardless of the outcome, I 'm proud of Judge William Hughes. He was the original magistrate on the Home place issue. He ruled for Home Place, and was primaried by Brainard for it. Their tool Poindexter failed to unseat Hughes, who won support for his honesty and courage throughout the county, and he was reelected Judge of Hamilton County's Superior Court. You can still stand for something and survive. Thanks, Judge Hughes!

  2. CCHP's real accomplishment is the 2015 law signed by Gov Pence that basically outlaws any annexation that is forced where a 65% majority of landowners in the affected area disagree. Regardless of whether HP wins or loses, the citizens of Indiana will not have another fiasco like this. The law Gov Pence signed is a direct result of this malgovernance.

  3. I gave tempparry guardship to a friend of my granddaughter in 2012. I went to prison. I had custody. My daughter went to prison to. We are out. My daughter gave me custody but can get her back. She was not order to give me custody . but now we want granddaughter back from friend. She's 14 now. What rights do we have

  4. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  5. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

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