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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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  1. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

  2. I pd for a bankruptcy years ago with Mr Stiles and just this week received a garnishment from my pay! He never filed it even though he told me he would! Don't let this guy practice law ever again!!!

  3. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  4. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

  5. Pass Legislation to require guilty defendants to pay for the costs of lab work, etc as part of court costs...

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