ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE
Susan K. Carpenter Karen M. Freeman-Wilson
Public Defender of Indiana Attorney General of Indiana
Indianapolis, IN Indianapolis, IN
Tracy A. Nelson Eileen Euzen
Deputy Public Defender Deputy Attorney General
Indianapolis, IN Indianapolis, IN
SUPREME COURT OF INDIANA
CONTRICE L. CARTER ) ) Appellant (Defendant Below ), ) 02S03-0005-PC-330) in the Supreme Court
November 28, 2000
During an argument in Fort Wayne on July 5, 1993, Carter shot and
killed Alvinchy Washington. The State charged Carter with murder. On September
7, 1993, Carters trial began and a jury was empaneled. The court
then recessed for depositions related to an alibi defense it had allowed Carter
to raise belatedly. Upon learning that the witnesses deposed did not corroborate
Carters version of events, Carter asked his counsel if it was too late
to change his plea.
The next day, based upon an agreement with the prosecutor, Carter pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter. He was fully and properly advised of his constitutional rights and the implications of his plea. (R. at 39, 192-99.) He affirmed that the plea was made freely and voluntarily, and without duress. (R. at 201.) He gave a factual account of the circumstances of the crime. See footnote (R. at 202-03.) The court discharged the jury and set a date for sentencing. It deferred formal acceptance of the plea for a month pending review of the pre-sentencing investigation report. See footnote
At the sentencing hearing, the trial court asked Carter if he was satisfied with the manner in which he had been represented. Carter had earlier answered the same question affirmatively, in the course of giving his plea. (R. at 201.) At sentencing, however, Carter said:
Okay, from the beginning, you know what Im saying, I was telling [my attorney] that I didnt do it right, but you know, when push come to shove and I couldnt prove that I didnt do it, she you know what Im saying, told me that I should sign a plea bargain right, and shes supposed to be my lawyer, you know what Im saying, if Im maintaining my innocence shes supposed to be pushing with that for me no matter what the outcome could be.
(R. at 210-11.)
The trial judge said, If this then is to be taken as a
motion or a suggestion that the plea of guilty be set aside, Ill
deny that request and we will proceed now with sentencing.
216-17.) The court accepted the plea and sentenced Carter to thirty years
in prison in accordance with the plea bargain.
In 1970, the U.S. Supreme Court found no federal constitutional barrier to a
courts acceptance of a guilty plea from a defendant who asserts innocence, at
least when there is a strong factual basis for the plea. North
Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25, 38 (1970). Alford explicitly recognized the
authority of individual states to refuse to accept guilty pleas that are accompanied
by assertions of innocence. Id. at 38 n.11.
Re-examining its own position in light of Alford, in 1983 this
Court reaffirmed that in Indiana as a matter of law . . .
a judge may not accept a plea of guilty when the defendant both
pleads guilty and maintains his innocence at the same time. Ross v.
State, 456 N.E.2d 420, 423 (Ind. 1983) (emphasis added).
Harshman and Ross, therefore, clearly established that an Indiana trial court may not accept a guilty plea that is accompanied by a denial of guilt. The Harshman-Ross rule is explicitly contingent, however, upon the protestation of innocence occurring at the same time the defendant attempts to enter the plea. Harshman, 115 N.E.2d at 502, 232 Ind. at 621; Ross, 456 N.E.2d at 423.
We elaborated on the policy underlying Indianas rule in Trueblood v. State,
587 N.E.2d 105 (Ind. 1992). We observed that the Harshman-Ross rule serves
to increase the reliability of guilty pleas. Id. at 107. It
also promotes respect for the court system because it prohibits conviction and sentencing
without trial if the defendant has admitted no crime to the court.
Id. Still, as reiterated in Trueblood, it generally applies only to defendants
who plead guilty and maintain their innocence at the same time. Id.
(emphasis added).See footnote
There is a substantive difference between a defendant who maintains innocence but asks
the court to impose punishment without trial, and one who concedes guilt in
one proceeding but contradicts that admission by claiming innocence in a later proceeding.
In the former case, the defendant has consistently denied culpability, and has
therefore never made the reliable admission of guilt that Indiana requires. In
the latter case, a defendant under oath has told the court two opposing
stories, both of which cannot be true.
An admission of guilt that is later retracted may nonetheless be reliable.
See Trueblood, 587 N.E.2d at 109-10. Admissions of guilt and assertions of
innocence come in many shades of gray, and the trial judge is best
situated to assess the reliability of each. A credible admission of guilt,
contradicted at a later date by a general and unpersuasive assertion of innocence,
may well be adequate for entering a conviction.
Nevertheless, Carter asks this Court to narrow the trial courts normal discretionary authority,
which is grounded in both statute and precedent, and to give defendants in
effect an absolute right to withdraw guilty pleas prior to formal acceptance.
The policy considerations underlying Indianas prohibition on Alford pleas do not require this
result. Furthermore, a rule that would afford defendants an absolute right to
retract a plea before its formal acceptance would be an all-too-handy tool for
deferring trial (and halting a trial in progress that was not going well
for the defendant) and would do little to enhance public respect for the
Defendants who make impulsive or ill-advised plea decisions and regret their actions upon later reflection are adequately protected by the right to request permission to withdraw a plea and to appeal a conviction if permission is denied. See Ind. Code Ann. § 35-35-1-4(b), (e) (West 1998).
At the sentencing hearing, before the trial court formally accepted the plea, Owens
orally asked permission to withdraw the plea. Id. Owens counsel indicated
to the court that her client now professed his innocence. Id.
The court denied the request to withdraw the plea, and then formally accepted
the plea. Id. at 375. Owens was sentenced to forty years
for the murder and to lesser concurrent terms for the other offenses.
Id. at 372-73.
This Court unanimously held that, under both statute and precedent, [t]he question whether
a defendant should be permitted to withdraw a guilty plea, once it has
been formally entered, is a matter addressed to the sound discretion of the
trial court. Id. at 375. Applying this standard, we held that
the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Owens request.
In support of this conclusion, this Court particularly noted that the protestation of
innocence at the sentencing hearing was general in nature. Id.
Thus, we established nearly two decades ago that court permission is required to
withdraw a guilty plea, even when the plea has not been accepted and
the withdrawal request is based upon a protestation of innocence. Id. at
375. Denial is reviewable under an abuse of discretion standard. Id.
Conflicting authority in the Court of Appeals, Brooks v. State, 577 N.E.2d
980 (Ind. Ct. App. 1991),
served as a basis for the dissent in
the present appeal.
Brooks is hereby disapproved.
The circumstances in this case were very similar. In fact, Carters admission
of guilt was more detailed. (R. at 202-03.) Also, in evaluating
Carters assertion of innocence and implied request to withdraw his guilty plea, the
trial court specifically noted that Carter had been relaxed and quite candid at
the time he entered that plea and provided its factual foundation. (R.
at 216.) The trial court did not err in denying Carter permission
to withdraw his guilty plea.
Dickson, Sullivan, and Boehm, JJ., concur.
Rucker, J., concurs in result.
Well, I had went over there . . . I guess it was
his . . . some girl that lived over had a problem with
one of my cousins or something so I had went over to my
Aunt house, you know, with a couple of dudes and her, you know,
they was over there with a gun, talking about whether to tell (unintelligible
name) to come outside, so I found out where it is, and I
went over there to talk to him about it, you know, and first
I got out the car and me and him talked, you know, kind
of like an argument, heated up, and I was like, you know .
. . I cant recall the exact conversation we had, but you know,
to the extent, you know, words like we calling each other names.
I was like f---, you know, like, f--- you. He pulled out
a gun and I pulled out a gun and I shot him.
I seen him run around the building and I just went down to
my car and left.
(R. at 202-03.)
Confessions are divided into two classes, namely, judicial and extra-judicial. Judicial confessions
are those that are made before the magistrate or in court, in the
due course of legal proceedings; and it is essential that they be made
of the free will of the party, and with full and perfect knowledge
of the nature and consequences of the confession. Of this kind are
the preliminary examinations, taken in writing by the magistrate, pursuant to statutes; and
the plea of guilty made in open court, to an indictment. Either
of these is sufficient to found a conviction, even if to be followed
by a sentence of death, they being deliberately made, under the deepest solemnities,
with the advice of counsel, and the protecting caution and oversight of the
judge. Such was the rule of the Roman Law * * *
and it may be deemed a rule of universal jurisprudence.
Id. at 80-81, 125 N.E. at 777.
Batchelor was a remarkable case in which this Court early charted its position about the care a court must take in accepting a guilty plea. Batchelor was held in jail at Gary for four days, his frequent requests to consult with his family and his lawyer refused. On the fourth day, he was taken to the jail at Crown Point. On the fifth day, a grand jury indicted him for murder in the first degree and officers brought him to the Lake Criminal Court for arraignment. The trial judge told him he had the right to a lawyer, but did not ask if he wanted one. The judge also told Batchelor that if he pled guilty the court would sentence him in accordance with law, but did not tell him what the sentence could be. Asked to plead, Batchelor said he was guilty and wished to plead guilty. The next day, the court accepted Batchelors plea and sentenced him to death. Two days later, Batchelor had had the chance to speak with a lawyer and moved to withdraw the plea. The trial court refused. This Court reversed, holding that Batchelors right to counsel under Section 13 of the Indiana Bill of Rights had been denied him. Justice Lairy wrote, The privilege of the presence of counsel upon the trial would be a poor concession to the accused if the right of consultation with such counsel prior to the trial was denied. Id. at 77, 125 N.E. at 776 (quoting People ex rel. Burgess v. Risley, 66 How. Pr. 67 (N.Y. 1883)).