Justices affirm denial of PCR to man whose attorney called him a ‘Negro’

The Indiana Supreme Court has affirmed the denial of post-conviction relief to a man who said his attorney prejudiced him by referring to him as a “Negro” during the selection of jurors, but noted that the Court of Appeals misstated the legal standard of prejudice it applied when making its decision.

In a per curiam opinion handed down Friday afternoon, the justices agreed with the Court of Appeals’ decision in Corey Middleton v. State of Indiana, 32S01-1704-PC-226, in which the appellate panel held that although Corey Middleton’s attorney had prejudiced him by calling him a “negro” before potential jurors, that prejudice was not enough to warrant post-conviction relief. There was substantial evidence to support his convictions of Class A felony dealing in cocaine, two counts of Class B felony dealing in a controlled substance, four counts of drug possession and possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon.

During voir dire, defense attorney Robert Williams, who has since been disbarred, posed a question about Middleton to potential jurors: “I’d ask you, all of you the one question and that is Corey Middleton happens to be a Negro, an African American or Black whatever term is politically correct these days, so I need to ask all of you and remember you’re under oath and please don’t take that as an affront. I don’t mean it as an affront. But I still think in this country there are some racial problems. So my job is to make sure first of all if Corey Middleton, the black man, was sitting there, would any of you have any problems forgetting he’s black or forgetting he’s white or Indian or Chinese or whatever (?) Does race make any difference to you in these proceedings because if it does we need to know that right now(?)”

In its decision on Middleton’s petition for post-conviction relief, the Court of Appeals held that Middleton had “not established that but for counsel’s error, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” The Supreme Court justices, after granting transfer in the Friday opinion, agreed, but noted that under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 694 (1984), a petitioner for post-conviction relief only needs to show “a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.”

Thus, the high court summarily affirmed the Court of Appeals’ opinion, with the exception of its misstatement of the Strickland prejudice standard.

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