How to Overturn or Appeal Old Convictions in Indiana

Appealing and overturning convictions in court

A criminal conviction in a state court in Indiana can be overturned or vacated after the defendant has served the sentence. Indiana statutes provide grounds and procedures for post-conviction relief; this relief is provided for in Indiana Rules of Post-Conviction Relief (Rule PC 1). A challenge can also be brought as a federal habeas corpus action if some elements of the defendant's situation involve remaining restraints on freedom.

A defendant can directly appeal a guilty plea or conviction by a judge or jury. There are strict time limits for filing a direct appeal that if missed require that the defendant gain permission to file belated forms for appeal (Indiana Rule PC 2). However, time restrictions do not limit the PCR; the statute authorizes filing at any time after conviction. The PCR requires exhaustion of other remedies; in the alternative, the petition will automatically stay any pending motion or appeal until the court has heard and decided the PCR.

Burden of Proof

The moving party bears the burden of proof and persuasion. The defendant must prove that one of the statutes' grounds applies. This burden must overcome the objections and evidence of the state that the conviction was lawful and proper or that the pleas were voluntary and knowing under all circumstances.

Standard of Proof

The standard of proof is a manageable one for defendants. Petitioners must prove the grounds for relief by a preponderance of the evidence. This standard is similar to a jury trial in a civil case; one must show that the evidence supports a finding that more likely than not, it is true. The test is that if shown by a majority of the evidence, the defendant's case is sufficient. The idea in terms of a number comparison would be 51 to 49 percent; the slightest majority favors the defendant's case.

PCR vs. Appeal

The PCR process and an appeal of a criminal conviction are difficult legal tasks. If petitioner has served the sentence and there are no remaining restrictions on freedom, then the PCR is likely the only avenue left open to challenge and old conviction. The PCR differs from the appeal in important ways. The PCR has few time limits; the statute authorizes filing of a PCR petition at any time.

One must file an appeal within a certain number of days after the guilty verdict or judgment, or entry of a guilty plea. When considering an old conviction for which the sentence has been completed, the time period to file an appeal will likely have long since expired.

Another important difference between PCR and an appeal is the scope. The appeal is limited to the matters in the record of the trial. This record is the trial transcript and all of the attachments and exhibits that were filed before, during and after the trial. It includes everything from the charging documents to the court’s final order to carry out the sentence. The PCR permits new evidence. Petitioner can present enough facts to show that evidence exists, which if fully heard and considered would more likely than not provide a basis for vacating a conviction. The evidence would persuade a reasonable juror that there was a reasonable doubt about guilt.

Grounds for Post Conviction Relief

A petitioner convicted of a crime in Indiana courts may initiate a proceeding under this rule at any time for relief under this Rule. Grounds for filing a petition for PCR include:

Habeas Corpus

Habeas corpus proceedings for post-conviction relief of state court convictions come from two sources, the federal habeas corpus statute and state of Indiana habeas corpus proceedings. Designed to bring the person of the detained defendant before a judge, each procedure requires some form of custody. For example, a person detained on parole violations in Indiana must be brought before the court that imposed the sentence. Federal habeas corpus for state court convictions required the defendant to be in custody; however, custody has been interpreted to include significant restrictions on freedom. Thus, federal procedures may be available for persons who have served a criminal period of incarceration but who still face a period of probation or parole. Probation or parole frequently restricts freedoms such as travel and association.

Legal Assistance for Appeal or PCR

The state of Indiana makes provisions for pro se defendants to file petitions for post-conviction relief. The state provides an official form with non-technical, step–by-step directions designed for public understanding. The form once filed in triplicate has a built-in method for distribution to courts and the State. The consideration of the application includes a review for eligibility for court-appointed assistance of counsel.

Petitioners will likely need legal assistance because the petition is complex. The law requires pleading or stating every available ground for overturning a conviction. The failure to state a ground can be used to bar it later because the law provides for waiver of any grounds or defenses not expressly claimed.

The hearing procedure requires a bench trial, and the judge applies the standard of preponderance of the evidence. The rules require the hearing to run in much the same way as a criminal trial. The State opposes the petition and presents evidence to persuade the court that the petitioner has not met the burden of proof. The court issues a decision after making findings on the evidence. Petitioners can appeal unfavorable decisions.

Costs of Post Conviction Relief

The Courts can waive costs of a post-conviction petition for a showing of need, and petitioners can proceed in forma pauper if they lack funds to pays fees and costs. The courts can appoint public counsel, and petitioners can engage private representation.

The legal effort required for effective representation in appeals and petitions for relief can be substantial. The process involves reviewing trial records and investigating sources of new evidence. Assistance of counsel can make a difference in the outcome and lead to successful development of new evidence and presentation before the court. Having an attorney assist with this process will ensure that the best possible case for vacating an old Indiana conviction is presented to the court.

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