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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. I work with some older lawyers in the 70s, 80s, and they are sharp as tacks compared to the foggy minded, undisciplined, inexperienced, listless & aimless "youths" being churned out by the diploma mill law schools by the tens of thousands. A client is generally lucky to land a lawyer who has decided to stay in practice a long time. Young people shouldn't kid themselves. Experience is golden especially in something like law. When you start out as a new lawyer you are about as powerful as a babe in the cradle. Whereas the silver halo of age usually crowns someone who can strike like thunder.

  2. YES I WENT THROUGH THIS BEFORE IN A DIFFERENT SITUATION WITH MY YOUNGEST SON PEOPLE NEED TO LEAVE US ALONE WITH DCS IF WE ARE NOT HURTING OR NEGLECT OUR CHILDREN WHY ARE THEY EVEN CALLED OUT AND THE PEOPLE MAKING FALSE REPORTS NEED TO GO TO JAIL AND HAVE A CLASS D FELONY ON THERE RECORD TO SEE HOW IT FEELS. I WENT THREW ALOT WHEN HE WAS TAKEN WHAT ELSE DOES THESE SCHOOL WANT ME TO SERVE 25 YEARS TO LIFE ON LIES THERE TELLING OR EVEN LE SAME THING LIED TO THE COUNTY PROSECUTOR JUST SO I WOULD GET ARRESTED AND GET TIME HE THOUGHT AND IT TURNED OUT I DID WHAT I HAD TO DO NOT PROUD OF WHAT HAPPEN AND SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SEEKING MEDICAL ATTENTION FOR MY CHILD I AM DISABLED AND SICK OF GETTING TREATED BADLY HOW WOULD THEY LIKE IT IF I CALLED APS ON THEM FOR A CHANGE THEN THEY CAN COME AND ARREST THEM RIGHT OUT OF THE SCHOOL. NOW WE ARE HOMELESS AND THE CHILDREN ARE STAYING WITH A RELATIVE AND GUARDIAN AND THE SCHOOL WON'T LET THEM GO TO SCHOOL THERE BUT WANT THEM TO GO TO SCHOOL WHERE BULLYING IS ALLOWED REAL SMART THINKING ON A SCHOOL STAFF.

  3. Family court judges never fail to surprise me with their irrational thinking. First of all any man who abuses his wife is not fit to be a parent. A man who can't control his anger should not be allowed around his child unsupervised period. Just because he's never been convicted of abusing his child doesn't mean he won't and maybe he hasn't but a man that has such poor judgement and control is not fit to parent without oversight - only a moron would think otherwise. Secondly, why should the mother have to pay? He's the one who made the poor decisions to abuse and he should be the one to pay the price - monetarily and otherwise. Yes it's sad that the little girl may be deprived of her father, but really what kind of father is he - the one that abuses her mother the one that can't even step up and do what's necessary on his own instead the abused mother is to pay for him???? What is this Judge thinking? Another example of how this world rewards bad behavior and punishes those who do right. Way to go Judge - NOT.

  4. Right on. Legalize it. We can take billions away from the drug cartels and help reduce violence in central America and more unwanted illegal immigration all in one fell swoop. cut taxes on the savings from needless incarcerations. On and stop eroding our fourth amendment freedom or whatever's left of it.

  5. "...a switch from crop production to hog production "does not constitute a significant change."??? REALLY?!?! Any judge that cannot see a significant difference between a plant and an animal needs to find another line of work.

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