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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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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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