Justices: Murderer should be able to file belated notice of appeal

The Indiana Supreme Court ruled in a per curiam decision a man who pleaded guilty to two counts of murder among other charges can file a belated notice of appeal after the justices found “unique circumstances” in his case that did not allow him to file an appeal of his sentence when it was decided in 1987.

Ronald Sanford pleaded guilty to two counts of murder, one count of Class A felony robbery and one count of Class B felony burglary in 1987 after he and friend forced their way into the home of Sanford’s elderly neighbors, robbing them and stabbing them to death. He was 13 at the time but was waived into adult court. He was sentenced to an aggregate term of 170 years in the Department of Correction, but the trial court did not advise him he had the right to appeal his sentence.

Beginning in 1991, Sanford tried to obtain trial court transcripts so he could file a petition for post-conviction relief, but had many problems. From 1991 to 1995, all of his requests for transcripts were denied. In 2004, he again asked for transcripts and other filings, but his request was denied by the trial court. His request to the Marion County Clerk’s Office could not be fulfilled because the original case file was missing.

In 2006, his pro se request for transcripts was granted, but two years later he had not received the transcript of his plea hearing. Finally in 2011 he again filed a pro se PCR petition and was appointed a state public defender.

In February 2015, Sanford filed a petition for permission to file a belated notice of appeal. The trial court denied his petition and the Court of Appeals affirmed it.

The Supreme Court said a court can grant permission to file a belated notice of appeal under Post Conviction Rule 2 if the defendant’s failure to file a timely notice of appeal was not his or her fault and if the defendant has been diligent in requesting permission to file a belated notice of appeal under the rule.

“Under the unique circumstances of this case, we find that Sanford should be permitted to file a belated notice of appeal,” the decision said.

The case is Ronald Sanford Jr. v. State of Indiana, 49S05-1604-PC-210.

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