Indiana Post-Conviction Relief Lawyer
Understanding Indiana Post-Conviction Relief
A guilty verdict and sentencing are not necessarily the end of the case for a criminal defendant. An Indianapolis criminal defense lawyer at Keffer Hirschauer LLP knows what legal options may still be available, and that is why the firm’s attorneys continue to provide quality criminal defense after sentencing.
The distinguished and peer-respected Indiana criminal defense attorneys at Keffer Hirschauer LLP know that the need for superior representation is as critical in post-conviction proceedings as it was in the underlying criminal case.
To have the greatest likelihood of succeeding in post-conviction proceedings, a petitioner needs attorneys like these, who are experienced in criminal law, understand the intricacies of Indiana post-conviction relief, and can act swiftly, competently, and thoroughly to traverse the muddy waters of post-conviction proceedings.
A criminal defendant has limited opportunities to challenge a conviction or sentence: a direct criminal appeal, sentence modification, clemency, pardon, and post-conviction relief proceedings. The most familiar is likely the direct appeal, but post-conviction relief is often a viable but overlooked option. A legal process with elements of both criminal and civil law, post-conviction remedy is a specific and complicated legal proceeding that challenges the legality of some aspect of the criminal trial or sentencing. As a result, working with an experienced Indianapolis post conviction attorney is necessary to make sure the challenge has the best chance of success.
What Is Indiana Post-Conviction Relief?
Post-conviction relief is a legal process in which a criminal defendant challenges the legality of some portion of the criminal trial, the judgment of conviction, or the sentence on legal grounds that were unknown or unavailable in the original trial or on direct appeal. It is not a chance for a “super appeal.” In fact, the defendant may or may not have pursued a direct appeal before seeking post-conviction relief.
Post-conviction relief and direct appeal are similar in that a criminal defendant may assert multiple grounds for relief. However, they differ on timing: the law sets a deadline for filing a direct appeal, but a petition for post-conviction relief has no such deadline.
The grounds for post-conviction relief all involve a claim that some element of the underlying proceeding or a decision in that proceeding was illegal or unconstitutional. Many of the possible grounds for Indiana post-conviction relief are set forth by the Indiana post-conviction rules:
- The conviction or sentence conflicted with Indiana’s laws, the Indiana Constitution, or the US Constitution
- The sentencing court did not have proper jurisdiction
- The sentence was erroneous in some other way, such as exceeding the length allowed by law
- Significant evidence exists that was not previously presented or heard, which evidence requires vacating or overturning the conviction or sentence
- The sentence is expired or the defendant’s probation, parole, or conditional release was unlawfully revoked
- Some other material legal error pertaining to the conviction or sentence has occurred, such as juror bias, perjury, DNA exclusion, or ineffective assistance of counsel
Defendants must strictly comply with Indiana post-conviction relief rules or risk waiving (or losing) the opportunity to seek post-conviction relief. As a result, succeeding in a post-conviction proceeding can be very difficult.
Indiana Post-Conviction Relief is Complex
The document that initiates post-conviction proceedings is a petition for post-conviction relief. The Indiana Judicial Branch provides sample forms for requesting for post-conviction relief, but, as explained above, even small errors in completing or filing the forms can result in losing the right to seek relief.
In addition to completing the forms correctly, failing to satisfy certain filing requirements can also affect whether the court will even review the errors asserted. Some of the filing requirements are as follows:
- The petition must be filed in the court that entered the judgment of conviction—the trial court, not the appeals court—unless the petition challenges the revocation of parole
- The petitioner must file three copies of the petition
- All of the claims for relief asserted must be in a single petition, and failure to include a claim may result in waiver of the ability to bring such claims later
With so much at stake, it is crucial to enlist the help of an experienced Indianapolis post-conviction attorney who knows the strongest arguments available in the case and when and how to file.
In preparing a petition for post-conviction relief, you also need to provide the court with the relevant parts of the criminal case documentation. At a minimum, a petitioner for post-conviction relief must accumulate and provide the following:
- The charging information and any filings related to it
- Evidence or discovery from the underlying criminal trial
- The motions and resulting orders from the underlying criminal trial
- The official transcript from the criminal trial
- Where post-conviction relief is based on an element of a direct appeal, all relevant documentation from the appeal
- Documentation of anything that happened in the criminal case after the trial
Accumulating these documents is time-consuming, requires particular filings, and incurs expense. Criminal defendants are often ill-equipped to understand the requirements and prepare the appropriate written requests for the necessary post-conviction documentation.
Petitioners for post-conviction relief must also show that they or their criminal defense attorney asserted the underlying basis for post-conviction relief and that they did so either at trial or another relevant proceeding. This shows that the defendant “preserved” the error for review as a basis of post-conviction relief.
If the criminal defendant did not preserve the issue, either in the trial court or on appeal, the issue is waived unless the petitioner can show that the failure to do so was the result of ineffective assistance of counsel.
An experienced post-conviction attorney can help navigate the challenge of determining the appropriate grounds to assert in a petition for post-conviction relief and whether it is possible to avoid a determination that one or more grounds have been waived and are ineligible for review.
After the petition for post-conviction relief, the court may or may not set the matter for a hearing. Either the petitioner or the State may request a summary disposition, in which the court makes a decision without a hearing and based strictly on the documentation and arguments filed. If the court holds a hearing, a judge, not a jury, hears the evidence and decides whether to grant relief. In either case, the petitioner has the burden of proving grounds for relief by a preponderance of the evidence.
Successive Post-Conviction Relief Petitions
While obtaining post-conviction relief is rare, obtaining relief under a subsequent or successive post-conviction petition is even less common. Generally, an accused cannot file an additional petition, even if the initial petition is, for example, dismissed based on a technicality. And because the initial post-conviction petition must set forth all possible claims, a successive petition for post-conviction relief must assert an extraordinary circumstance to avoid waiver.
For these reasons, a criminal defendant must obtain permission to file a successive petition for post-conviction relief. For example, a petitioner may allege that the post-conviction attorney who filed the prior petition for post-conviction relief rendered ineffective assistance of counsel by omitting one or more potential grounds for post-conviction relief. If the Indiana Court of Appeals determines that the circumstances warrant, the court can grant leave (give permission) to file a successive post-conviction petition.
Habeas Corpus Proceedings
Habeas corpus proceedings are civil actions that are separate from but related to underlying state or federal criminal litigation. They are not filed to attack a conviction or sentence as is done in a petition for post-conviction relief. Instead, Indiana habeas corpus petitions are filed in the county of incarceration and seek release from unlawful custody.
Habeas corpus relief is an exceptional area of relief that covers federal violations or claims that should have been known, or evidence discovered, after post-conviction relief. In Indiana, Indiana Code § 34-25.5-1-1 et seq. set out the proceeding for seeking relief from detention not specifically covered by Indiana post-conviction proceedings.
Federal law also includes habeas corpus statutes:
- 28 U.S.C. § 2254, the collateral review statute for state prisoners
- 28 U.S.C. § 2255, the federal prisoner’s equivalent
- 28 U.S.C. § 2241, for habeas petitions regarding loss of good time credits in prison disciplinary proceedings
Federal courts often provide online access to habeas corpus forms for habeas corpus relief, but, just as with post-conviction relief forms, any habeas corpus claims should be carefully crafted to avoid the risk of waiving the right to review and determination of the claims alleged. Having the assistance of attorneys familiar with habeas corpus claims and process, like those at Keffer Hirschauer LLP, is critical.
Find Your Indiana Post-Conviction Relief at Keffer Hirschauer LLP
Seeking Indiana post-conviction relief can be intimidating. The rules for filing are rigorous, and the court refuses to review a petition that does not strictly comply. Having the assistance of a skilled post-conviction relief attorney is essential to getting your petition reviewed by the court and improving your chance of success.
An Indianapolis post-conviction attorney from Keffer Hirschauer LLP is ready to provide the help you need to make sure you have done all that you can. Contact us today at (317) 857-0160 or through our online contact form for a free case evaluation.