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Man’s Sixth Amendment right not violated

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The failure of a judge to inquire into a defendant’s written complaint about his public defender didn’t violate the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel, the Indiana Supreme Court held Wednesday. However, the justices explained if a trial judge finds him or herself in a situation similar to the one presented, that judge should at least receive assurances from the public defender’s office that the complaint has been adequately addressed.

Randy Johnson had written to Monroe Circuit Judge Teresa Harper complaining that his public defender, Patrick Schrems, was ignoring his case. Johnson faced a child molesting charge, of which he was later convicted. Judge Harper forwarded the complaint to the county public defender’s office and told Johnson her authority was limited and it was up to the public defender’s office to assign public defenders. Judge Harper and Johnson took no further action on the matter before trial and Johnson and his attorney didn’t raise any objections to the representation at trial or the sentencing hearing.

On appeal, Johnson argued his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel was violated by the trial judge when she didn’t conduct an adequate inquiry into his letter. He brought up other issues on appeal, but the Supreme Court only addressed this one in its decision. The justices also disagreed with the Court of Appeals’ decision to grant the state’s motion to strike portions of Johnson’s appellate brief that referenced Schrems’ previous discipline. The justices held their decisions imposing discipline against Schrems were before the trial court and the Court of Appeals to the same extent as their decisions in other litigated matters.

Turning to Johnson’s Sixth Amendment claim, the justices unanimously held his constitutional right hadn’t been violated. He claimed a conflict of interest existed between him and Schrems because the attorney didn’t interview certain witnesses. He claimed his conviction should be reversed under Holloway v. Arkansas, 435 U.S. 475 (1978), because the judge didn’t conduct an adequate inquiry when it responded that it could do nothing but send the complaint to the public defender’s office.

The high court rejected his argument in Randy Edward Johnson v. State of Indiana, No. 53S01-1106-CR-335, noting Johnson failed to allege even a potential conflict of interest or that his attorney’s loyalties were divided between Johnson and another client.

The justices also noted that in the future, under similar circumstances, a judge should do more than just pass the complaint along.

“Although indigent defense counsel must have professional independence, judges cannot take a complete ‘hands-off’ approach and totally rely on a bureaucratic agency,” wrote Justice Frank Sullivan, noting the U.S. would develop problems similar to those in England, in which there was an over-bureaucratizing of public legal services.

“To be sure, trial court judges often receive letters from disgruntled defendants complaining about their appointed lawyers, and many of these complaints – we are willing to assume most – will be unfounded. But in instances like this, where appointed counsel has a track record of the professional misconduct complained of, the judge should at minimum require assurance from the public defender’s office that the issue will be resolved. This would neither inhibit the independence of public defenders nor impose an onerous burden on our trial judges,” he wrote.
 

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  1. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

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