Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Brian Woods v. State (Ind. 8/27/08): Offer to Prove after the Judge Says No?

Woods v. State, Supreme Court No. 49S04-0808-CR-469 (Ind. 8/27/08) is an odd little case. It is odd, if only because the Indiana Supreme Court took it up at all. It did not even rate oral argument.

Here's about what happened:
  1. Woods is on probation.
  2. Any violation will lead to 15 years of backup time.
  3. The State files a notice saying he missed some urine screens.
  4. Woods asks the trial court if he can explain.
  5. The trial court says no, because any violation leads to the backup time.
  6. The Indiana Supreme Court says that it's over, because Woods did not make an offer to prove.
This may be unobjectionable, if Woods was represented at the probation revocation hearing. Nothing in either the Supreme Court case or the original Court of Appeals opinion says that he was. It seems to me unreasonable to expect someone unrepresented to continue after a judge has said he may not explain--that is, that he may not produce evidence that he violated the terms of the probation.
[Update (8/29/08): Woods was represented. See this post.]

If Woods had good reasons for missing the urine screens, this is particularly ugly, because post-conviction relief is not available with respect to probation revocation proceedings. [Update (8/29/08): This is incorrect. See this post with the correction.]

I guess the Supreme Court took it up, because the Court of Appeals opinion was published and said some unnecessary things about "strict compliance" probation terms.

From a litigant's perspective, this is ugly too. Woods's petition to transfer was filed at the end of December 2007. By now, both Woods and his lawyer would have been reading tea leaves. None of the leaves would have suggested a grant of transfer with an affirmance--especially when the State did not file a transfer brief in opposition. Had I been Woods's lawyer today, I would have been shocked and dismayed, after being thrilled, to see the opinion appear out of nowhere with an affirmance.

But that's the way this business of criminal defense is. A court reporter in the Autonomous Republic of Lake (County) once referred to it as "grave-digger's work."

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