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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. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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