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Justices: Appeal not available after guilty plea

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A majority of Indiana Supreme Court justices agreed a man who pleaded guilty couldn't appeal the denial of his pre-trial motion to suppress. Yet one justice believed the plea agreement should have been honored according to its terms, which included reserving the right to object to the denial of the motion to suppress.

In Tommy D. Alvey v. State of Indiana, No. 82S01-0902-CR-66, the state's highest court took the case to clear up conflicting decisions by the Indiana Court of Appeals on whether a person who pleads guilty is allowed to challenge the denial of a motion to suppress or other pre-trial motions on direct appeal.

The majority decided those who plead guilty can't challenge these motions on direct appeal based on precedent limiting the right to appeal following a guilty plea. The justices cited Tumulty v. State, 666 N.E.2d 394, 396 (Ind. 1996), and Lineberry v. State, 747 N.E.2d 1151, 1155 (Ind. Ct. App. 2001), to support their ruling.

Justice Frank Sullivan noted that on at least two occasions, the Court of Appeals decided to review the merits of a defendant's pre-trial motion to suppress notwithstanding the fact he had entered a guilty plea, but authority doesn't allow Alvey to challenge his convictions in a direct appeal following his guilty plea.

"To the extent that prior opinions of the Court of Appeals are inconsistent with this conclusion, we disapprove of those decisions," wrote Justice Sullivan. "A trial court lacks the authority to allow defendants the right to appeal the denial of a motion to suppress evidence when a defendant enters a guilty plea, even where a plea agreement maintains that such an appeal is permitted."

Tommy Alvey filed a motion to suppress evidence after he was charged with various drug offenses and carrying a handgun without a license. As part of a plea agreement, he expressly reserved the right to appeal the trial court's ruling on his motion to suppress. The trial court informed him he was allowed to appeal the decision even though he pleaded guilty.

Alvey then appealed the denial of his motion; the Court of Appeals affirmed because it believed his guilty plea foreclosed his right to challenge the pre-trial motions.

Justice Theodore Boehm saw no reason why Alvey's plea agreement shouldn't be kept intact. He voted for remand for consideration of the appeal of the denial of his motion to suppress.

"Permitting such an agreement gives the defendant whatever benefit a guilty plea provides in sentencing and also provides an appeal of the issue that is not subject to discretion of either the trial or appellate court," he wrote in his dissent. "Moreover, if the trial court's ruling on the motion to suppress is reversed, permitting the appeal will have generated an unnecessary sentencing hearing. But neither the court nor the prosecution is under any obligation to agree to such an arrangement unless it is sufficiently confident of success on appeal, or regards the prospect of avoiding a trial a sufficient inducement to agree."

The majority noted some unfairness to Alvey based on his plea because he was told he would be able to appeal the suppression motion. The high court remanded the case to the trial court with instructions to give Alvey the option of proceeding with his current plea, absent the right to appeal the suppression order. If he doesn't exercise that option within 90 days of the certification of this opinion, the plea agreement will be vacated.

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  2. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

  3. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

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  5. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

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