Majority orders new requirement for pro se defendants with little guidance

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Three Indiana Supreme Court justices created a new requirement as an exercise of supervisory powers when it comes to informing future defendants about the dangers of proceeding pro se, leaving two justices to dissent because the new requirement provides no guidance as to what trial courts must do or say.

In David Hopper v. State of Indiana, No. 13S01-1007-PC-399, David Hopper originally pled guilty in 2005 to operating while intoxicated. He signed a “waiver of attorney” form. In 2009, he filed a petition for post-conviction relief saying his waiver wasn’t made knowingly and intelligently and because of that, he was denied his right to counsel in violation of the U.S. and state constitutions.

The Court of Appeals reversed the denial of relief by the post-conviction court. The judges found a waiver of counsel entered into without advice of both the right to counsel and the dangers of proceeding pro se is not knowing and voluntary. They pointed out the value of counsel’s experience in bargaining for a plea and the ability to find weaknesses in the state’s position to allow for negotiation.

The Court of Appeals referred to the constitutions, but Justices Theodore Boehm, Robert Rucker, and Frank Sullivan decided not to base their holding on either the federal or state constitution, noted Justice Boehm for the majority.

“Rather, we exercise our supervisory power to require that in the future a defendant expressing a desire to proceed without counsel is to be advised of the dangers of going to trial as required by Faretta, and also be informed that an attorney is usually more experienced in plea negotiations and better able to identify and evaluate any potential defenses and evidentiary or procedural problems in the prosecution’s case,” he wrote.

The majority noted this new advisement, which is prospectively applied, will require minimal additional time or effort at the initial hearing and may encourage defendants to accept counsel. They don’t believe it will impose a significant burden on the judicial process, but didn’t offer any specific instructions on how trial courts were to advise defendants.

Since this will apply to future cases only, the majority affirmed the judgment of the trial court.

Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard and Justice Brent Dickson dissented. Chief Justice Shepard wrote that the primary beneficiaries of the decision will be repeat offenders, people like Hopper “because he has been charged with yet another offense and it would be helpful to him if he could wipe out his last conviction for drunk driving.”

The warnings mandated by the majority aren’t required by the federal Constitution and the majority explicitly declined to say that they are required by the state constitution, he continued, and they acted “without a word” on balancing the social costs or benefits within the mandate.

The dissent questioned how many people will decide not to plead guilty because of the “minimal” judicial intervention introduced by the majority, or how many repeat offenders will avoid penalties because the warning was omitted or found inadequate with the benefit of hindsight.

“That society, or even offenders, will be better off is far from clear,” he wrote.


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  1. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues