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Trial in absentia did not violate due process

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The due process rights of a man charged with two counts of Class C felony non-support of a dependent child were not violated when he was tried in absentia and without trial counsel, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.

In Ronald B. Hawkins v. State of Indiana, 20A03-1112-CR-579, Ronald Hawkins appealed his convictions, arguing that he was denied due process when he was tried in absentia and without trial counsel, that his presence at sentencing by video only was erroneous, that the trial court improperly entered judgment on both counts as Class C felonies, and that the trial court abused its discretion in imposing consecutive sentences.

Hawkins failed to appear at a hearing concerning his counsel’s motion to withdraw. He was given notice that his public defender’s motion would be granted if he failed to appear at a reset meeting, and he did not appear. Hawkins, who traveled from North Carolina to Indiana for his jury trial, arrived several hours late and missed the proceedings.

“We find that the facts addressed by the Indiana Supreme Court in Jackson (v. State, 868 N.E.2d 494, 499 (Ind. 2007)), in which waiver of the right to counsel was found, are close enough to dictate the same result here,” the opinion states.

Hawkins waived for appellate review his argument that it was improper to sentence him via videoconference. The COA affirmed in part, ruling that Hawkins’ due process rights weren’t violated; reversed in part, addressing issues involving convictions and sentencing; and remanded the case.

“The trial court did not abuse its discretion in imposing consecutive sentences,” Judge Cale Bradford wrote. “The trial court, however, erred in entering both convictions as Class C felonies. We remand with instructions to reduce one of Hawkins’s Class C felony non-support of a dependent child convictions to a Class D felony and impose the advisory sentence, to be served consecutive to the sentence for the remaining Class C felony, for an aggregate sentence of five and one-half years.”

Judge Terry Crone concurred, while Judge Nancy Vaidik concurred in part and dissented with opinion.

Vaidik disagreed with the majority conclusion that Hawkins knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily waived his right to counsel.

“Because I believe that the facts in this case are readily distinguishable from the facts in Jackson and because of the importance of an attorney for a fair proceeding, I would reverse the trial court on this issue,” she wrote.

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