COA says defendant has to pursue claims through post-conviction proceedings

A man who represented himself at his probation revocation hearing for driving without a license hit a roadblock when he tried to go directly to the Indiana Court of Appeals and argue he did not knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily waive his right to counsel.

In July 2017, Sidney Corey Kirkland pleaded guilty in Hamilton Circuit Court to Level 5 felony operating a motor vehicle after forfeiture of license for life. He agreed to a five-year sentence with two years executed and three years suspended.

Two years later, Kirkland’s probation was revoked when the state alleged he committed a new offense in Johnson County of operating a motor vehicle after forfeiture of license for life, a Level 5 felony. Kirkland appeared pro se and twice told the trial court he did not want an attorney to represent him.

The trial court then ordered Kirkland serve 800 days of his previously suspended sentence.

In Sidney Corey Kirkland v. State of Indiana, 21A-CR-568, the Court of Appeals dismissed without prejudice. The unanimous panel held Kirkland must pursue his claims through post-conviction proceedings.

The appellate panel cited Tumulty v. State, 666 N.E. 2d 394, 395-96 (Ind. 1996), which held that defendants who plead guilty must pursue relief through post-convictions proceedings, and Huffman v. State, 822 N.E. 2d 656, 658-59 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005), which concluded defendants challenging the validity of their admission to a probation violation must do so through a petition for post-conviction relief.

Noting the Court of Appeals at other times has considered direct appeals of probation violation admissions, the Kirkland panel did not veer from its stance.

“… (A) lthough our supreme court has yet to directly address the issue of whether Tumulty applies to admissions to probation violation, it recently held in J.W. v. State, 113 N.E. 3d 1202, 1204 (Ind. 2019), that juveniles may not challenge the validity of admissions to delinquency adjudications on direct appeal,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote for the court. “Rather, the court held that the interests of finality in judgments, freedom of parties to settle disputes, and the need for factual development of claims favored extending Tumulty to the juvenile-law counterpart to a criminal plea.

“We see no reason why these interests are not equally applicable to cases involving admissions to probation violations, which, like juvenile delinquency adjudications, are civil in nature but present issues pertinent to criminal law,” Riley continued. “Our supreme court’s decision in J.W. and the parity of interests involved convince us that Huffman and its progeny represented the more correct approach.”

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