ILNews

Supreme Court clarifies credit time rules

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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A trio of opinions from the Indiana Supreme Court gives trial courts additional guidance about how to handle prisoner claims regarding how credit time is applied to sentences.

The three-ruling package deal came down late Thursday, with the court simultaneously granting transfer and deciding Keith Neff v. State of Indiana, No. 49S02-0806-CR-362; and Charles Young v. State of Indiana, Nos. 27S02-0806-PC-363 and 27S02-0806-PC-364.

Justice Frank Sullivan authored the decisions that are all designed to clarify a ruling the Supreme Court made in Robinson v. State, 805 N.E.2d 783 (Ind. 2004), which discussed procedures available to prisoners for correcting a sentence erroneous on the face of the judgment of conviction. These collateral issues are now being addressed in these new opinions.

First, in the main holding in Neff, the court unanimously decided that an abstract of judgment may function in the place of a formal judgment of conviction. But a prisoner must exhaust all administrative remedies within the Department of Correction before seeking judicial relief if the agency fails to give that person earned credit time, the court held.

Receiving a 20-year sentence for pleading guilty to a felony charge of dealing methamphetamine, Neff filed a motion claiming that he was only given half of the total 1,712 days of credit time toward his sentence. But the trial court and appellate court both rejected his argument on grounds that he'd only challenged an abstract of judgment, rather than an actual judgment of conviction. The Court of Appeals had relied on the holding in Robinson, where the justices had previously concluded state statutes governing credit time and motions to correct sentence couldn't be based on abstracts.

But Neff faced a practical problem: Marion County doesn't make a practice of issuing a formal judgment of conviction in addition to an abstract of judgment, the court found, which made it impossible for Neff to comply with the Robinson requirement.

"We would prefer that all trial courts issue judgments of conviction in compliance with I.C. 35-38-3-2," Justice Sullivan wrote. "However, we recognize that this has not historically occurred in Marion County, which has a very high volume of criminal cases. Therefore, when a defendant files a motion to correct an erroneous sentence in a county that does not issue judgments of conviction (we are currently aware only of Marion County), the trial court's abstract of judgment will serve as an appropriate substitute ...."

The court also wrote that it's asked the Indiana Judicial Conference and the Supreme Court's Records Management Committee to study and report on whether any further action is needed.

But even when relying on the abstract, Neff didn't go through the DOC's administrative process adequately and had mistakenly calculated his credit time, justices determined. That led to the second part of its holding on exhausting administrative remedies, and ultimately caused him to lose on his claims for relief.

In the Young cases, justices were able to expand on what it held in the main opinion.

Justices held that a prisoner, in order to present a claim in state court, must show what the relevant DOC administrative grievance procedures are and that they've been exhausted. They also formalized a finding in support of what the Court of Appeals has previously held "... that post-conviction proceedings are the appropriate procedure for considering properly presented claims for educational credit time."

Young is serving a 40-year sentence from a 1992 conviction of conspiracy to deal crack cocaine, and he filed two post-conviction petitions regarding aspects of credit time while he was incarcerated. But the justices affirmed the Court of Appeals, which had determined that Young should have gone through the DOC's administrative processes to resolve the issue rather than relying on the state court system.

Ultimately, Young lost because he'd already filed at least one post-conviction petition, and the court admonished him in both opinions for not providing enough evidence to show that he'd gone through the administrative procedures or that he'd earned educational and good time credit.
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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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