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Molest conviction affirmed; habitual offender waiver remanded

May 23, 2016

The Indiana Court of Appeals found a counsel’s mistake did not constitute judicial admission in a man’s trial when he was found guilty of molesting his stepdaughter. But the appeals court remanded his guilty plea for being a habitual offender, finding he did not waive his right to trial on the issue at court, his attorney did.

James Saylor was convicted of numerous counts for molesting his stepdaughter and sentenced to 138 years in prison. However, during the closing argument, Saylor’s defense attorney argued the state’s medical evidence did not prove Saylor molested her because Saylor had sex with other people and inadvertently said “Mr. Saylor was not the only person having sex with” his stepdaughter. However, the state did not do anything with this alleged admission and found Saylor guilty of the molesting charge.

During a separate trial for Saylor’s habitual offender charge, defense counsel told the court that Saylor wanted to plead guilty, but Saylor did not say that himself. Saylor filed for post-conviction relief in 2014, seven years after his adjudication. He argued ineffective assistance of counsel for the admission of guilt during the trial and that the waiver of his trial on the habitual offender charge was not knowing or voluntary because he did not personally waive it.

Saylor claimed his counsel was ineffective in other ways as well, including when he did not object to the trial court not giving his victim an oath before testifying in trial court. Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik, writing for the panel, disagreed. She wrote the court examined her to determine simultaneously whether she could testify and give an oath, so this claim falls short.

Defense counsel also was not ineffective for not objecting to the prosecutor’s impermissible vouching during closing arguments. Vaidik wrote any arguments the prosecutor made were proper because they were based on reasons arising from evidence presented at trial, so counsel was not ineffective.

Saylor’s counsel’s statement during closing argument that “he was not the only person having sex with B.D.,” did not constitute judicial admission, Vaidik wrote. Counsel did not remembering making this statement, and the state did not capitalize on it during closing argument. Also, there was more than enough evidence to convict Saylor of the crime without the statement.

Finally, the COA ruled a new trial must be conducted on Saylor’s habitual offender charge because he did not waive the right to trial on that charge in court. His attorney told the court he was pleading guilty, but Saylor never spoke. Vaidik cited the recent Indiana Supreme Court decision Horton v. State, in which a man never personally spoke to waive his right to trial.

“Because the right to a jury trial is a bedrock of our criminal-justice system, the same protection should be afforded to defendants who plead guilty — and not just to those who proceed to a bench trial. Accordingly, when a defendant pleads guilty, he must personally waive his right to a jury trial,” Vaidik wrote.

The case is James E. Saylor v. State of Indiana, 39A05-1503-PC-113.

 

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