The Indiana Court of Appeals sidestepped precedent and allowed a Cass County man to directly appeal his conviction based on his guilty plea rather than file a post-conviction petition, finding justice was best served by the direct appeal.
Daniel Paul Grady Snyder pleaded guilty and was sentenced to nearly 29 years in prison. At the recommendation of the state, the Cass Circuit Court did not sentence him for Count 2, possessional of methamphetamine, to avoid double jeopardy, with Count I, dealing in methamphetamine, a Level 3 felony.
However, the Court of Appeals noted the trial court made a “clerical error” by not vacating Snyder’s conviction of possession. The trial court merged the two counts, which left the possession of methamphetamine conviction intact.
While acknowledging that Tumulty v. State, 666 N.E.2d 394, 395 (Ind. 1996), requires challenges to convictions based on guilty pleas to come through post-conviction petitions rather than by direct appeals, the appellate panel allowed Snyder to make a direct appeal because the error in his conviction was “unmistakable on the face of the record.”
Post-conviction proceedings enable the incarcerated individual to make factual assertions about the guilty plea. But this case, the appeals court held, does not require a factual determination. All the parties conceded a double jeopardy violation in Snyder’s convictions for possession and dealing.
In a nine-page opinion written by Judge Leanna Weissmann, the appellate court noted that such a strict reading of Tumulty would prohibit the judges from correcting “glaringly erroneous post-guilty plea convictions.” Such errors would threaten indigent criminal defendant who rely on public defenders.
Weissmann wrote that under Indiana Code section 33-40-1-2, state public defenders can only represent indigent defendants who are incarcerated. Defendants released are ineligible for representation and therefore could not pursue post-conviction relief.
Although Snyder did not face that particular situation, the court found “others undoubtedly will.”
“When an indisputable error with a post-guilty plea conviction is obvious on the face of the record, justice is best served by correcting the mistake on direct appeal rather than allowing the error to fester through the uncertainty of the postconviction process,” Weissmann wrote.
The case is Daniel Paul Grady Snyder v. State of Indiana, 21A-CR-854. Judge Elizabeth Tavitas concurred in result.