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Justices order new trial for man tried in absentia

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A North Carolina man who was convicted of two counts of Class C felony neglect of a dependent by an Elkhart Superior Court while the defendant was on a bus on the way to court will get a new trial, the Indiana Supreme Court concluded Tuesday.

In Ronald B. Hawkins v. State of Indiana, 20S03-1208-DR-499, Ronald Hawkins appealed his two convictions, arguing his trial in absentia denied him due process of the law. The Indiana justices focused on one of Hawkins’ claims: that the record doesn’t reflect a knowing, voluntary or intelligent waiver of his right to an attorney.

Hawkins’ public defender in the case sought to withdraw before his Nov. 7, 2011, trial date. The trial court told Hawkins of his attorney’s request, that there would be a hearing Oct. 19 and his failure to appear will result in his arrest and withdrawal of the public defender. Hawkins appeared by telephone. That hearing was rescheduled after technical difficulties, and the court didn’t tell him that the motion to withdraw would be granted if he didn’t appear at the new hearing.

Hawkins didn’t appear at the Oct. 26 hearing, his attorney was allowed to withdraw, and he was not in court for his Nov. 7 trial. A deputy prosecutor was alerted that Hawkins was on his way but his bus from North Carolina wasn’t due in until the afternoon. The trial court proceeded with the trial, where Hawkins was convicted. He later explained to the court from jail that he couldn’t afford transportation for both the Oct. 26 hearing and his trial, so he chose to attend the trial. He didn’t think he would arrive after the trial started in the morning.

The justices referenced Jackson v. State, 868 N.E.2d 494 (Ind. 2012), which upheld the decision to try a man in absentia, and found Hawkins’ behavior didn’t rise to the “egregious misbehavior” from Jackson.

“In no way, shape, or form, should our opinion today be taken as approval for Hawkins’s actions as a defendant facing criminal charges. Nor should it be taken as an invitation for defendants to ‘game the system.’ It is well known that trial courts face tremendous challenges in terms of case loads and staffing limitations, and every delay (intentional or not) necessarily has a carry-over effect to every other person’s access to the courtroom — and by extension, their access to justice,” Justice Steven David wrote.

"We therefore reiterate the theme of Jackson: that such willful, knowing, and voluntary misconduct aimed at manipulating the court system for one’s own benefit will not be looked upon with anything resembling favor.”

The justices ordered a new trial for Hawkins and pointed out based on its recent decision in Sanjari v. State, 961 N.E.2d 1005 (Ind. 2012), if he’s convicted of the two counts of Class D felony nonsupport, only one can be enhanced to a Class C felony. They also reminded the court and the state that “personally present” and “present in person,” as used in Indiana Code 35-38-1-4(a) and Indiana Administrative Rule 14(A)(2)(c), respectively, refer to the defendant’s actual physical presence. A trial court may conduct a sentencing hearing at which the defendant appears by video, but only after obtaining a written waiver of his right to be present and the consent of the prosecution.

 

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  1. For many years this young man was "family" being my cousin's son. Then he decided to ignore my existence and that of my daughter who was very hurt by his actions after growing up admiring, Jason. Glad he is doing well, as for his opinion, if you care so much you wouldn't ignore the feelings of those who cared so much about you for years, Jason.

  2. Good riddance to this dangerous activist judge

  3. What is the one thing the Hoosier legal status quo hates more than a whistleblower? A lawyer whistleblower taking on the system man to man. That must never be rewarded, must always, always, always be punished, lest the whole rotten tree be felled.

  4. I want to post this to keep this tread alive and hope more of David's former clients might come forward. In my case, this coward of a man represented me from June 2014 for a couple of months before I fired him. I knew something was wrong when he blatantly lied about what he had advised me in my contentious and unfortunate divorce trial. His impact on the proceedings cast a very long shadow and continues to impact me after a lengthy 19 month divorce. I would join a class action suit.

  5. The dispute in LB Indiana regarding lake front property rights is typical of most beach communities along our Great Lakes. Simply put, communication to non owners when visiting the lakefront would be beneficial. The Great Lakes are designated navigational waters (including shorelines). The high-water mark signifies the area one is able to navigate. This means you can walk, run, skip, etc. along the shores. You can't however loiter, camp, sunbath in front of someones property. Informational signs may be helpful to owners and visitors. Our Great Lakes are a treasure that should be enjoyed by all. PS We should all be concerned that the Long Beach, Indiana community is on septic systems.

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