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Thursday, April 04, 2013

Ind. Decisons - Supreme Court decides one today

In Daniel Ray Wilkes v. State of Indiana, a 20-page, 5-0 opinion, Chief Justice Dickson writes:

The defendant, Daniel Ray Wilkes, has appealed the post-conviction court's denial of his claim that he was deprived of his constitutional rights to an impartial jury and effective assistance of counsel. We affirm the post-conviction court.

The defendant was convicted by a jury of the 2006 murders of Donna Claspell and her two daughters, eight-year-old Sydne Claspell and thirteen-year-old Avery Pike. The State sought the death penalty and, in the penalty phase of the trial, the jury found all four charged statutory aggravating circumstances and that the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstances but reached no agreement on a sentencing recommendation. In accordance with statute, Ind. Code § 35-50-2-9(f), the trial court then conducted the sentencing, independently found that the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstances, and sentenced the defendant to death. The defendant appealed, and we affirmed. Wilkes v. State, 917 N.E.2d 675 (Ind. 2009).

The defendant then petitioned for post-conviction relief on various grounds. The post-conviction court denied relief on all but one of the defendant's claims, modifying the defendant's sentence from death to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. While succeeding in obtaining relief from his death sentence, the defendant now appeals from the denial of his addi-tional post-conviction request for new trial, claiming (a) that his trial counsel were constitutional-ly ineffective for failing to fully investigate and present certain exculpatory evidence; (b) that his trial counsel were constitutionally ineffective for failing to question a specific juror ("Juror A") during voir dire; (c) that his trial counsel were constitutionally ineffective for inadequately pre-serving for appeal the defendant's objection to the trial court's time limitation on voir dire there-by depriving the defendant of an impartial jury; (d) that, by declining to fully answer two ques-tions on the juror questionnaire, Juror A committed misconduct and deprived the defendant of his right to an impartial jury; and (e) that the post-conviction court erred in denying the defend-ant's motion for discovery or in camera review of materials relating to Juror A's family.

Post-conviction proceedings are civil proceedings in which the defendant must establish his claims by a preponderance of the evidence. Ind. Post-Conviction Rule 1(5); Ben-Yisrayl v. State, 738 N.E.2d 253, 258 (Ind. 2000). Post-conviction proceedings do not offer a super-appeal, "[r]ather, subsequent collateral challenges to convictions must be based on grounds enumerated in the post-conviction rules." Stevens v. State, 770 N.E.2d 739, 746 (Ind. 2002) (citing P.-C.R. 1(1)); Ben-Yisrayl, 738 N.E.2d at 258. Those grounds are limited to "issues that were not known at the time of the original trial or that were not available on direct appeal." Ben-Yisrayl, 738 N.E.2d at 258. "Issues available but not raised on direct appeal are waived, while issues litigated adversely to the defendant are res judicata." Pruitt v. State, 903 N.E.2d 899, 905 (Ind. 2009) (citing Allen v. State, 749 N.E.2d 1158, 1163 (Ind. 2001)); see also Ben-Yisrayl, 738 N.E.2d at 258. Claims of ineffective assistance of counsel and juror misconduct may be proper grounds for post-conviction proceedings. See Pruitt, 903 N.E.2d at 906; Allen, 749 N.E.2d at 1164, 1166; Ben-Yisrayl, 738 N.E.2d at 259.

Because the defendant is appealing from the denial of post-conviction relief, he is appeal-ing from a negative judgment and bears the burden of proof. Ben-Yisrayl, 738 N.E.2d at 258. Thus, the defendant "must establish that the evidence, as a whole, unmistakably and unerringly points to a conclusion contrary to the post-conviction court's decision." Id. "In other words, the defendant must convince this Court that there is no way within the law that the court below could have reached the decision it did." Stevens, 770 N.E.2d at 745. We review the post-conviction court's factual findings for clear error, but do not defer to its conclusions of law. Id. at 746 (citing Ind. Trial Rule 52(A)).

Posted by Marcia Oddi on April 4, 2013 01:52 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions