Thursday, October 07, 2004

Street v. State: Laches?

I have been working on a longer post about yesterday's contempt case handed down by the Court of Appeals, In re the Finding of Contempt against Troy Cudworth. That post is not ready yet for prime time. Fascinating case, though, contrary to all appearances--and not even mostly because it mentions Blakely in a footnote for no apparent reason.

Kitty Liell has provided me with the NFP decision of the Court of Appeals in Street v. State (here) that Marcia Oddi mentioned on the Indiana Law Blog here a while ago, and which I mentioned in this previous post, surprised that the reversal of a murder conviction would come out NFP. I probably should not have been surprised or unsurprised. I don't read the NFP decisions except when I am waiting around at the State Public Defender's Office for some reason. (There is always a nice stack of the recent ones and then binders for the more elderly.) For all I know, the Court of Appeals reverses murder convictions NFP all the time, although it seems unlikely.

Street is the reversal of an order denying post-conviction relief on the facts. That is a very rare animal in itself. Despite uncontradicted expert opinions that Street was not competent to stand trial, the judge found Street competent to enter a guilty plea to murder and attempted murder, which the judge accepted.

Other than the stunning result, the thing about the opinion that most caught my attention was the State's claim of laches. I have not spoken with Kitty about what happened below, but it looks like the post-conviction court denied Street's petition on its merits--else what merits would the Court of Appeals have had to review? The Court of Appeals says nothing about the State having cross-appealed its loss on its laches defense. Why did the Court of Appeals take up the issue at all?

More importantly, why should laches even be available as a defense when a defendant is found to have been incompetent to plead in the first place? How can someone who was incompetent to stand trial or plead ever delay unreasonably in seeking post-conviction relief?

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