COA: Trial Rule 41(E) requires hearing on PCR petition

July 29, 2016

A trial court should have followed Indiana Trial Rule 41(E) and held a hearing before dismissing an inmate’s petition for post-conviction relief, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Friday.

Chawknee P. Caruthers was convicted of murder in 2008 and is seeking post-conviction relief after his conviction was affirmed on direct appeal in 2010. He filed a pro se PCR petition in August 2010, and his public defender, who was assigned in September 2010, withdrew her appearance in 2013. The petition sat dormant, with Caruthers failing to take any further action on the matter and the state failing to move to dismiss it.

In March 2015, the PCR court issued an order to close the case and set a status hearing for May 8, 2015. Before the hearing, Caruthers filed a motion asking the court not to close his case. On May 8, the PCR dismissed his petition, along with 106 other cases for failure to prosecute pursuant to T.R. 41(E). But the court never held a hearing before it dismissed Caruthers’ case.

The Indiana Supreme Court case Rumfelt v. Himes, 438 N.E.2d 980 (Ind. 1982), which concluded T.R. 41(E) clearly requires a hearing on a motion to dismiss, applies in the instant matter, the COA concluded. The rule requires more than just scheduling a hearing.

“There were multiple mechanisms that were available to the court to address Caruthers’s motions, such as arranging a telephone conference or directing Caruthers to submit his case by affidavit. However, the trial court dismissed his action without holding a hearing as required by Trial Rule 41(E),” Judge Terry Crone wrote.

The case, Chawknee P. Caruthers v. State of Indiana, 46A04-1512-PC-2194, is remanded for either a T.R. 41(E) hearing or reinstatement of Caruthers’ action.


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