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COA orders post-conviction court to reduce criminal confinement sentence

March 14, 2017

A man who pleaded guilty to criminal confinement will have his sentence reduced by eight years after the Indiana Court of Appeals held Tuesday that his trial attorney’s erroneous counsel led the man to make the decision to reject a previous plea agreement.

After being released from prison for seven months and fearful that his parole officer was looking for him, Michael Lindsey approached a woman in the parking lot of a Hobby Lobby store and, armed with a screwdriver, attempted to force her to drive him out of the county. The woman got away, and Lindsey fled the scene.

A short time later, Lindsey encountered another woman, whom he forced to drive him away, but later let go. He was ultimately arrested and charged with attempted criminal confinement and criminal confinement, both as Class B felonies. As part of a plea agreement, Lindsey had agreed to plead guilty to both charges in exchange for a 32-year sentence, eight years shorter than the maximum sentence he was facing.

However, Lindsey changed his mind at the last minute, telling the court that his trial counsel had assured him that his two crimes were part of a single episode of criminal conduct, so his total sentence could not have exceeded 30 years. His counsel later testified it was his opinion “that it was a continuing criminal scheme or plan, because the one attempt was within a half an hour of the actual taking of the person.”

The plea agreement was modified to be an open plea and to leave sentencing to the trial court’s discretion. The trial court then found that the conduct was not part of a single episode, so Lindsey was sentence to 40 years total.

Lindsey’s first appeal was affirmed in 2010, so he filed for post-conviction relief, arguing ineffective assistance of trial counsel, leading to a guilty plea that was not knowing, voluntary or intelligent. The post-conviction court denied his petition, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the denial in 2015, finding that because Lindsey had always intended to plead guilty, he was not prejudiced.

Lindsey’s case then reached the Supreme Court of the United States, which vacated and remanded the appellate court opinion because the incorrect standard had been applied to the case. Then in a Tuesday opinion, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the denial of Lindsey’s PCR petition.

Judge John Baker, writing for the appellate panel, said the advice from Lindsey’s counsel that his conduct constituted one episode of criminal activity “fell below the standard of performance required of attorneys.” Further, Lindsey told the post-conviction court that had he known that 40 years was “in play,” he would have elected to take the plea agreement.

Additionally, the plea agreement was drafted and Lindsey had signed it, thereby demonstrating that there was “a more than reasonable probability that the prosecutor would have gone along with the agreement,” Baker said. And because a sentence to 32 years from a maximum of 40 “is neither notably high nor low,” there was a reasonable probability that the judge would have accepted the agreement.

“Under these facts, we have little doubt that, but for trial counsel’s ineffectiveness, Lindsey would be serving a 32-year sentencing today,” the judge wrote.

Thus, the appellate panel reversed the denial of Lindsey’s PCR petition and remanded the case with instructions to modify his sentence to 32 years.

The case is Michael Lindsey v. State of Indiana, 71A04-1412-PC-576.

 

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