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'Prison mailbox rule' applies to direct appeals

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The "prison mailbox rule," which the Indiana Court of Appeals had previously determined applies in post-conviction proceedings, also is applicable in direct appeals, the appellate court decided today.

In Robert E. Lawrence II v. State of Indiana, No. 29A02-0906-CR-580, the Court of Appeals ruled the trial court erred when it denied Robert Lawrence II permission to file a belated notice of appeal because his appeal was timely filed.

The trial court originally sentenced Lawrence Dec. 10, 2008, to 1,095 days in the Indiana Department of Correction, with all but one year suspended. The trial court amended the sentence two days later, saying it should be all but 703 days were suspended.

While incarcerated, Lawrence discovered more confusion over his sentence and drafted his request to appeal on Jan. 9, 2009. He gave it to a Reception and Diagnostic Center staff member to mail. Because he didn't have access to the law library on that date, his mail was handled outside the regular law library process - outgoing inmate mail on the weekends isn't processed, logged, or provide postmarks.

The trial court received the notice Jan. 16 and ruled it received the mail after the 30-day deadline to request an appeal and that Lawrence should pursue a belated motion to appeal. The trial court then denied him permission to file the belated notice of appeal.

The state had argued that Indiana hasn't stated a prison mailbox rule for criminal direct appeals. That rule says pro se filings from an incarcerated litigant are considered filed at the time they are delivered to prison authorities for forwarding to the court. Indiana has recognized that rule in the post-conviction context in Dowell v. State, 908 N.E.2d 643 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009); the state claims that ruling only applies in state post-conviction proceedings and depositing a pleading with prison officials isn't recognized by Indiana Trial Rule 5(F) as a permissible manner of filing.

"We do not believe the holding in Dowell was intended to foreclose the prison mailbox rule's application to other matters; there was simply no need to make a more sweeping pronouncement as to its application to situations not relevant to that case," wrote Judge Margret Robb. She noted the appellate court found no reason why the same analysis making it applicable in post-conviction proceedings shouldn't also apply to direct appeals.

Lawrence's request for an appeal was given to prison officials five days before his deadline to file the notice of appeal, so it was timely filed. As such, the appellate court granted him permission to pursue a belated appeal on the merits.

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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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