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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. Hysteria? Really Ben? Tell the young lady reported on in the link below that worrying about the sexualizing of our children is mere hysteria. Such thinking is common in the Royal Order of Jesters and other running sex vacays in Thailand or Brazil ... like Indy's Jared Fogle. Those tempted to call such concerns mere histronics need to think on this: http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/a-12-year-old-girl-live-streamed-her-suicide-it-took-two-weeks-for-facebook-to-take-the-video-down/ar-AAlT8ka?li=AA4ZnC&ocid=spartanntp

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  3. This is happening so much. Even in 2016.2017. I hope the father sue for civil rights violation. I hope he sue as more are doing and even without a lawyer as pro-se, he got a good one here. God bless him.

  4. JLAP and other courtiers ... Those running court systems, have most substance abuse issues. Probably self medicating to cover conscience issues arising out of acts furthering govt corruption

  5. I whole-heartedly agree with Doug Church's comment, above. Indiana lawyers were especially fortunate to benefit from Tom Pyrz' leadership and foresight at a time when there has been unprecedented change in the legal profession. Consider how dramatically computer technology and its role in the practice of law have changed over the last 25 years. The impact of the great recession of 2008 dramatically changed the composition and structure of law firms across the country. Economic pressures altered what had long been a routine, robust annual recruitment process for law students and recent law school graduates. That has, in turn, impacted law school enrollment across the country, placing upward pressure on law school tuition. The internet continues to drive significant changes in the provision of legal services in both public and private sectors. The ISBA has worked to make quality legal representation accessible and affordable for all who need it and to raise general public understanding of Indiana laws and procedures. How difficult it would have been to tackle each of these issues without Tom's leadership. Tom has set the tone for positive change at the ISBA to meet the evolving practice needs of lawyers of all backgrounds and ages. He has led the organization with vision, patience, flexibility, commitment, thoughtfulness & even humor. He will, indeed, be a tough act to follow. Thank you, Tom, for all you've done and all the energy you've invested in making the ISBA an excellent, progressive, highly responsive, all-inclusive, respectful & respected professional association during his tenure there.

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