ILNews

Plea can't be challenged with new evidence

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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In a case of first impression, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled a guilty plea can't be challenged in post-conviction proceedings by a claim of newly discovered evidence regarding the events making up the crime.

In Shawn E. Norris v. State of Indiana, No. 43S03-0807-CR-379, Shawn Norris appealed the post-conviction court's grant of the state's motion for summary disposition on Norris' petition for post-conviction relief. Norris pleaded guilty four years earlier to molesting his sister's child, served his sentence, and then later filed the petition for relief on grounds of newly discovered evidence. His sister, whose allegations resulted in the child molesting charges against Norris, recanted her story and said that because of Norris' limited mental capacity, she could convince him to say anything she wanted him to believe.

Norris believed these submissions from his sister entitled him to an evidentiary hearing on his petition for post-conviction relief. He wanted the court to set aside and vacate his conviction.

Here, Norris is seeking to undermine the sanctity of his own guilty plea by challenging the facts presented to the police that led to his arrest; he isn't contesting testimonial evidence at the trial that resulted in determination of guilt notwithstanding a not-guilty plea. Indiana's post-conviction procedures don't expressly address that distinction, wrote Justice Brent Dickson.

"It is inconsistent to allow defendants who pleaded guilty to use post-conviction proceedings to later revisit the integrity of their plea in light of alleged new evidence seeking to show that they were in fact not guilty. Both his confession and his new claims cannot be true," wrote the justice.

With the acceptance of his guilty plea, Norris waived the right to present evidence regarding guilt or innocence. A defendant can have recourse to post-conviction proceedings to seek to withdraw his guilty plea whenever the guilty plea wasn't knowingly and voluntarily made, but Norris isn't asserting that claim, wrote Justice Dickson.

Justices Theodore Boehm and Robert Rucker concurred in a separate opinion, agreeing Norris hadn't shown the post-conviction court erred in dismissing his petition, but the two justices don't agree that a guilty plea precludes a court from granting post-conviction relief on a claim of actual innocence. Justice Boehm gives the example of a defendant pleading guilty to a lesser charge in the face of highly persuasive but not conclusive evidence of guilt in a crime carrying a higher penalty.

"The interest of justice surely requires overturning a conviction of an innocent person," he wrote.

But, in the instant case, Norris didn't present evidence that meets the standards required by Post-Conviction Rule 1(a)(4), therefore there isn't enough to overcome the strong presumption that a guilty plea is in fact a truthful admission of guilt, he wrote.
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  1. Your article is a good intro the recent amendments to Fed.R.Civ.P. For a much longer - though not necessarily better -- summary, counsel might want to read THE CHIEF UMPIRE IS CHANGING THE STRIKE ZONE, which I co-authored and which was just published in the January issue of THE VERDICT (the monthly publication of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association).

  2. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  3. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  4. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  5. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

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