The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the denial of a man’s post-conviction relief petition after it found any ineffectiveness of counsel the man received did not affect the outcome of his case in his decision to plead guilty to Class A felony neglect of a dependent.
Brandon Black pleaded guilty to that charge, but filed a petition for post-conviction relief shortly after his sentencing hearing, saying he misunderstood how long his sentence would be if he pleaded guilty to both charges against him, the neglect of a dependent charge as well as a battery of a dependent charge. He said he thought he would be facing a 100-year charge if sentenced to both charges after a trial, but in reality the max he would have been facing was 53 years. He was sentenced to 50 years with 10 years suspended.
Black said he pleaded guilty involuntarily and was denied effective assistance of trial counsel.
In the decision written by Judge Elaine Brown, the COA held “It is incumbent upon the attorney to describe the best and worst case scenarios as to penal consequences the client would face whether the client pleads guilty, with or without a plea agreement, or stands trial.” So, if Black’s lawyer did not advise him of the maximum sentence he would face at trial it would mean his lawyer was deficient.
However, Brown wrote that Black never demonstrated any omission in advice was material to his decision to plead. The strength of the state’s case in his post-conviction hearing was strong and no evidence suggests he ever had a chance of acquittal on the charge. The post-conviction court also found his testimony that he risked receiving a greater sentence incredible.
By pleading guilty, Black saved himself three years off of his sentence, from 53 to 50 years, and the post-conviction court considered his reduction.
The case is Brandon T. Black v. State of Indiana, 02A03-1511-PC-1875.