Habitual offender enhancement in plea not involuntary, COA holds

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Indiana Lawyer on 8/8/2019 by Katie Stancombe

The denial of a prisoner’s petition for post-conviction relief has been upheld after the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded the man’s guilty plea that included a habitual criminal offender enhancement was not involuntary.

After Alandus James was charged with Class D felony battery on a child, Class D felony strangulation and Class D felony residential entry, a habitual criminal offender enhancement was added based on James’ two prior conviction for sexual misconduct with a minor.

James pleaded guilty to the habitual offender enhancement without a guilty plea agreement upon his conviction of the charges, but subsequently challenged his 30-month and two consecutive 18-month sentences on appeal. In his petition for post-conviction relief, James asserted that his guilty plea was involuntary because the trial court had “failed to advise him that he was waiving his right to confront and cross-examine witnesses and his right against self-incrimination.”

The Elkhart Superior Court concluded his guilty plea was voluntary and dismissed his petition on the finding that James was not inadequately advised of his rights at the habitual offender stage of the proceedings.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the denial in Alandus James v. State of Indiana, 18A-PC-03063, concluding James knew his constitutional rights under Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238 (1969) when he pleaded guilty to the enhancement by virtue of the trial court’s partial advisement.

The appellate panel agreed that the trial court made no mention of the right to confront witnesses or the right to remain silent prior to James’ acceptance of his guilty plea. However, because the habitual offender stage occurred just after the jury had returned its verdicts on James’ underlying felonies, it rejected his argument that the denial of his petition was contrary to law.

“The trial court told James he had a right to a jury and that James ‘ought to kind of be familiar with the jury process now’ because James had just finished the jury trial of the underlying felonies. The court’s language indicates the process for the (habitual criminal offender) phase would be the same as the felony phase,” Judge Melissa May wrote for the court. “Accordingly, the record demonstrates James was aware of the rights he was waiving to plead guilty during the HCO phase because he had just exercised those rights during the felony phase.”