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Friday, March 06, 2009

Ind. Decisions - Helton oral argument reported today

The oral argument yesterday before the Supreme Court in the case of James H. Helton, Jr. v. State of Indiana (see ILB summary of COA opinion here) is the subject of a story today, reported by Justin Leighty, in the Elkhart Truth:

The five justices of the Indiana Supreme Court grilled attorneys Thursday morning on both sides of the case of James H. Helton Jr., 45, of Elkhart.

The Indiana Court of Appeals earlier said Helton's guilty plea in a methamphetamine case should be overturned because his lawyer didn't challenge some of the evidence, but the Supreme Court took over the case and will decide the outcome.

Justice Robert Rucker said Helton's trial attorney, Juan Garcia, planned to object to the evidence at trial, but Helton's guilty plea kept that from happening. However, the justices don't know whether Helton's attorney's misunderstanding of the law led to the guilty plea.

"We're dealing with a hypothetical," Justice Theodore Boehm said.

Justice Brent Dickson said, "A bigger issue for me is the fact that the defendant pled guilty. We accord a plea of guilty, a voluntary plea of guilty, a considerable significance. He voluntarily said yes, I committed the crime with which I'm charged. Why does anything else matter?"

John Chenoweth, an attorney representing Helton's appeal, said that while a guilty plea gives up some constitutional rights, it doesn't give up the right to effective assistance of counsel. Deputy Attorney General Cynthia Ploughe came to the defense of Garcia, saying his plan to wait to challenge the evidence at the trial was a tactical move that doesn't show he gave ineffective assistance.

She said ultimately, Helton regrets his choice to admit to the charge. "His conviction is not the result of proceedings that were against him. His conviction was due solely to him pleading guilty."

Chenoweth argued that if Garcia fought the evidence earlier in the case, Helton may not have pleaded guilty and the case might not have gone to trial.

Justice Frank Sullivan Jr. said, "We don't have anything in the record indicating why this man pled guilty." There could be reason to believe that "the reason he pled guilty after one day of trial is because things weren't going very well," Sullivan said.

Chief Justice Randall Shepard noted, "We simply know nothing about that."

You may watch the oral argument yourself here.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 6, 2009 08:30 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions