Man’s pro se sentence appeal denied, but COA splits over process

A man convicted of sex crimes lost his argument on appeal that he had served the entirety of his sentence, but an appellate panel disagreed on how the man’s pro se complaint should have been treated in court.

Judges were unanimous in determining that Shawn G. Willet was not entitled to relief from his 15-year sentence imposed March 25, 2010 after he was convicted of three counts of Class B felony sexual misconduct with a minor.

Willet, who also was credited with 791 days of credit time for pretrial detention, was released to parole in January 2015, which was revoked in December 2017. By his calculations, he asserted in September 2019 that between time served in the Department of Correction and on parole plus earned credit time, he had served more than 15 years and therefore was being unlawfully detained.

The Elkhart Superior Court summarily denied Willet’s petition, and the appellate panel agreed Friday in Shawn G. Willet v. State of Indiana, 19A-CR-2699.

The panel concluded that “the record reveals on its face that Willet was not entitled to release because his sentence has not expired,” and will not until Jan. 23, 2023.

But the judges diverged on how the court should have arrived at that conclusion. Writing for the majority, Judge Margret Robb was joined by Judge Melissa May in holding that Willet’s case was to be treated as a petition for habeas corpus.

Judge Nancy Vaidik, however, wrote in a concurring opinion that the matter should have been treated as petition for post-conviction relief, as the state argued.

“Construing Willet’s motion as a petition for post-conviction relief is problematic because the proper procedure in post-conviction proceedings was not followed in this case,” the majority explained in a footnote. “First, under the post-conviction rules, the State must respond to the defendant’s petition within thirty days. P-C.R. 1(4)(a). Here, Willet filed his motion on September 16, 2019 and the trial court denied the petition on October 11, before the State could file a response. In addition, this court has previously summarized a post-conviction court’s procedural options as follows: hold a full evidentiary hearing, P-C.R. 1(5); deny the petition if the pleadings show no merit, P-C.R.1(4)(f); decide the petition on the basis of the pleadings and other evidence submitted if either party moves for summary disposition and there is no genuine issue of material fact to be considered at a hearing, P-C.R. 1(4)(g); or, if the petitioner is pro se, order the case submitted on affidavit, P-C.R. 1(9).”

But Vaidik said whether Willet’s claim was adjudicated as a habeas or post-conviction petition, the court that heard it was within its discretion to summarily deny it because it was without merit. She believed, however, that the PCR process should have governed Willet’s claim.

“The majority suggests that I believe Willet’s motion should be treated as a petition for post-conviction relief ‘based on where he filed it rather than the substance of the allegations … .” Vaidik wrote. “Not true. The substance of the motion is just as important as the location of filing. And the substance of Willet’s motion is a claim that his sentence has expired — a claim that is explicitly authorized by the post-conviction rules. Again, Post-Conviction Rule 1(1)(a)(5) very clearly provides that a person who claims ‘that his sentence has expired’ can ‘institute at any time a proceeding under this Rule to secure relief.’ In short, it is the two things taken together — the substance of Willet’s motion and the fact that he filed it in the county of conviction — that lead me to conclude that the motion should be treated as a petition for post-conviction relief.”

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