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Indiana Supreme Court upholds decision granting convicted felon’s motion for relief

October 25, 2016

The Indiana Supreme Court will allow a convicted felon to bring his case for post-conviction relief back to court to be heard on the merits after finding that his motion for relief was filed in a timely manner, despite a seven-year delay.

After pleading guilty to felony possession of cocaine in 1997, Robert Collier was sentenced to 545 days in the Department of Correction with 521 days suspended and 90 days of probation. In 2001, Collier filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief, alleging that he was denied effective assistance of counsel, that his attorney misled him and that his guilty plea was not knowing, intelligent and voluntary. After requesting a public defender, Collier’s petition was eventually withdrawn in 2005.

In 2007, Collier again filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief, alleging that his counsel was ineffective and that his plea was not intelligent and voluntary while also requesting that his plea agreement be vacated. Collier once again requested a public defender, but that request and his petition for relief were both denied.

Between 2008 and 2012, Collier submitted multiple requests seeking documents related to his conviction and the order denying his 2007 petition, and Collier received the documents in 2008, 2009 and 2012.

Then in 2014, Collier filed a third pro se petition for post-conviction relief, once again requesting representation and submitting an affidavit of indigence. Once he had received counsel, Collier filed in 2015 motion for relief from the September 2007 order.

In his motion for relief, Collier argued that his 2007 petition was legally required to be sent to the state public defender. Further, Collier argued that he did not receive a timely notification of the denial of his petition, so he could not file a timely appeal. Finally, Collier’s counsel argued that she believed her client suffered from cognitive deficiencies that impacted his ability to represent himself, that Collier has limited education and that a review of the record shows that there are issues that have merit.

The post-conviction court granted Collier’s motion for relief from judgment before it received a response from the state, prompting the state to file a motion to reconsider. The state argued that Collier had not proven extraordinary circumstances to support his belated filing of a motion for relief. The court granted the motion to reconsider, but ultimately determined that it would reinstate Collier’s 2007 petition for post-conviction relief.

After the state appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the post-conviction court’s decision because Collier’s motion was not filed within a reasonable time.

But in a Tuesday opinion, Justice Steven David wrote for the high court that “the passage of time alone is not enough to warrant the denial of a motion on the basis of timeliness.”

Although many years passed between Collier’s initial notice that his petition had been denied and his motion for relief, David agreed with Collier’s counsel that the delay was caused by his lack of education and cognitive disability.

Further, David noted that Collier was not able to file the appropriate motion requesting relief until he received counsel, which he was denied at the time of his 2007 petition. Thus, given the circumstances, David wrote that Collier’s motion was filed in a timely manner and, further, the court’s failure to refer his case to the public defender “justifies extraordinary relief.”

Finally, David wrote that if Collier’s motion for relief is granted, he would have the opportunity to present his case with the assistance of counsel and have it decided on the merits, an opportunity he did not have in 2007 when he was denied counsel. Thus, the high court affirmed the post-conviction court’s decision.

The case is State of Indiana v. Robert Collier, 49S04-1610-PC-554.
 

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