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Judges order new PCR hearing on guilty plea issue

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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed in part the denial of a man’s pro se petition for post-conviction relief, holding the post-conviction court’s findings didn’t support its rejection of the man’s claim his plea was illusory or involuntary.

Ricky Graham pleaded guilty to dealing in a narcotic drug as a Class B felony in exchange for the dismissal of other charges, including a habitual-offender charge. Graham argued that his plea was illusory and involuntary because it was motivated by the improper threat of a 30-year habitual-offender enhancement. The state conceded on appeal his dealing charge couldn’t have been enhanced under the general habitual-offender statute.

Graham also challenged whether there was a sufficient factual basis for his guilty plea and whether he received effective assistance of trial and appellate counsel.

In Ricky E. Graham v. State of Indiana, No. 22A01-1008-PC-392, the appellate judges address several procedural issues before turning to the merits of the case. They noted the state faulted Graham for not introducing the record related to his trial and guilty plea at the PCR hearing in support of his claims. But the trial court didn’t introduce any of the records Graham brought and said they could get the transcripts from the Superior Court records.

“It is true that Graham did not insist that the materials he brought to the hearing be introduced into evidence. Still, if a party in a PCR proceeding provides the original trial record (or a part thereof) to the PCR court, the PCR court should proactively ensure that the record is officially entered into evidence as an exhibit, so that the trial record is transmitted to this court in the event of an appeal and to avoid claims of waiver for failing to submit the trial record to the PCR court,” wrote Judge Michael Barnes. “Otherwise, there is the danger of converting a procedural technicality into a trap for unsuspecting litigants, which we emphatically discourage.”

Graham also alleged ineffective assistance of trial counsel and it was up to the PCR court to issue any subpoenas on his behalf. The judges declined to address his ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim because they ultimately remanded for further proceedings.

The judges affirmed there was a sufficient factual basis for Graham’s guilty plea and that he didn’t receive ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. But the appellate court remanded his case to the PCR court on the issue of whether his guilty plea was illusory and involuntary. The Court of Appeals relied on Segura v. State, 749 N.E.2d 496 (Ind. 2001), and Willoughby v. State, 792 N.E.2d 560, 564 (Ind. Ct. App. 2003), to hold that the standard they set out dealing with ineffective assistance of counsel claims is equally applicable to straightforward claims of an involuntary or illusory plea, wrote Judge Barnes.

“Ultimately, there is evidence here that the trial court itself advised Graham at the guilty plea hearing that he was facing a possible maximum fifty-year sentence if he did not plead guilty. Such an advisement arguably would overshadow any advice Graham had received from trial counsel regarding the validity of the habitual offender enhancement,” wrote the judge.

The judges found the PCR court’s findings don’t support its rejection of Graham’s claim his plea was illusory or involuntary. They remanded for consideration of whether there exist facts that meet the Segura standard for setting aside a guilty plea based on the clearly improper threat of a habitual-offender sentence enhancement. Also on remand, the PCR should consider the effectiveness of his trial counsel should Graham resubmit his subpoena request for his trial counsel to appear at the new hearing.
 

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