COA: Firm entitled to investigatory expenses

A firm who represented an indigent man’s murder case pro bono is entitled to the costs of the investigation of his defense, the Court of Appeals ruled, even though the man pleaded guilty.

Scott Schuck pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter on March 2015 after he killed his girlfriend. Before the case began, Schuck told the trial court he had a relationship with the firm of Baldwin Adams and Kamish and they would represent him. Because Schuck was indigent, the firm told the court they would be willing to represent him pro bono as long as costs associated with investigating the case would be covered, including the scientific witnesses it thought it would need.

The firm made a request for public funding but it was denied five days before the trial. The firm paid the cost of an investigator to conduct interviews and locate several witnesses. After the first day of the trial, Shuck agreed to plead guilty. After the trial, the court granted deposition costs but denied investigator costs, saying an investigator was not necessary in the trial. The firm filed a motion to correct error, but that was denied as well.

In the decision written by Judge John Baker, the COA said principles of fundamental fairness entitle an indigent defendant an opportunity to present his claims fairly. Baker cited Kocielko v. State, 938 N.E.2d 243, 254-55 (Ind. Ct. App 2010) on 11 factors that should be present when the court needs to determine whether services are necessary to provide an adequate defense. Nearly every factor supports reimbursement of investigation expenses, Baker wrote.

The argument that because Schuck pleaded guilty he did not need any investigation fails because the Indiana Supreme Court has ruled defense services for indigent defendants should include investigation. “The need to factually investigate the claims made against a defendant does not begin at trial,” Baker wrote.

Baker also wrote the state’s defense “has terrible public policy implications.” He continued, “Ironically, in the name of conserving scarce public money, the State would require pro bono defenders seeking public funds to go through a full trial, which would be vastly more expensive, even when the defendant is willing to plead guilty.”

The trial court said the fees that the firm requested were too high, “But we do not believe that the process should work like a gameshow, where a request for too much money results in no money being awarded,” Baker wrote.

The COA remanded the case to the trial court and ordered it to hold a hearing to determine the amount of funding that should be awarded.

The case is Scott Schuck v. State of Indiana, 73A01-1507-CR-981. 

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