ILNews

Supreme Court rules on belated appeals

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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The Indiana Supreme Court granted transfer Thursday to two cases dealing with belated appeals.

The high court granted transfer with opinion in Demond Hughes v. State of Indiana, No. 49S04-0802-CR-86. At issue was whether Hughes was allowed to file a belated appeal to challenge the appropriateness of his 40-year concurrent sentence. Hughes pleaded guilty to felony murder and Class A misdemeanor reckless possession of a handgun. Initially, the trial court sentenced Hughes to a 50-year concurrent sentence, with five years suspended. Hughes later obtained post-conviction relief reducing his sentence to 40 years - and retaining the five-year suspension - because the correct presumptive sentence for the date of the offense was 40 years. Hughes had filed for relief because he held the trial court didn't correctly weigh the aggravating and mitigating factors.

Six years after his sentence was reduced, Hughes filed a request to commence a belated appeal because he wanted his sentence reviewed for appropriateness "upon learning of his appellate rights." The trial court granted his motion, ruling Hughes had been diligent in seeking relief.

However, Hughes' belated appeal is moot because at his guilty-plea hearing, he was advised he gave up the right to direct appeal and the sentence was modified because the presumptive sentence should have been 40 years, wrote Justice Brent Dickson.

In his current appeal, Hughes is trying to relitigate the issue of the trial court not identifying all of the mitigating and aggravating factors in order to sentence him. The Supreme Court affirms the sentence imposed by the trial court after Hughes' post-conviction relief because his claim is barred by procedural default - a defendant may not by belated appeal religitate a sentence challenged previously in post-conviction relief, wrote Justice Dickson.

The Supreme Court also granted transfer and a remand by order in David Ohm v. State of Indiana, No. 79A02-0712-CR-336. The Supreme Court granted transfer to decide whether the Court of Appeals properly dismissed a belated appeal initiated by Ohm. Ohm pleaded guilty to two counts of murder in an open plea agreement and was sentenced to a term of 60 years executed. Sixteen years later, Ohm argued his enhanced sentence was improper and was granted permission by the trial court to file a belated notice of appeal pursuant to Indiana Post-Conviction Rule 2(1).

The Court of Appeals determined that Ohm had not been diligent in pursing the belated appeal and dismissed it without addressing the merits of his arguments relating to his sentence.

In the order authored by Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard, the high court vacated the Court of Appeals opinion and remanded to the appellate court for consideration on the merits of Ohm's appellate arguments.

"Considering particular circumstances of this case, which include that the State did not object to the belated appeal, the appeal was fully briefed on the merits, and Ohm did not have any reason to brief the issue of whether the trial court abused its discretion, we believe consideration of the merits of this direct appeal by the Court of Appeals is appropriate," Chief Justice Shepard wrote.
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