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Indiana Supreme Court: Guilty Plea Cannot Reserve Right To Appeal Pre-trial Ruling
Posted in Litigation

On Monday, the Indiana Supreme Court resolved a conflict among Indiana Court of Appeals decisions, and held that a defendant who pleads guilty to an offense may not appeal the denial of a motion to suppress or other pre-trial motion on direct appeal.

In Alvey v. State, the defendant’s plea agreement called for a guilty plea to dealing in methamphetamine and carrying a handgun.  Alvey also agreed to let the trial court determine his sentence.  In exchange, the State agreed to dismiss the remaining charges, and did not object to Alvey expressly reserving the right to appeal the trial court’s ruling on his motion to suppress evidence.

On appeal, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment of conviction, and concluded that Alvey’s guilty plea foreclosed his right to challenge the trial court’s denial of Alvey’s motion to suppress evidence.  Alvey v. State, 897 N.E.2d 515 (Ind. Ct. App. 2008).

The Indiana Supreme Court granted transfer and, in a 4-1 decision, agreed that Alvey’s guilty plea foreclosed his appeal of the motion to suppress.  In reaching this decision, the Court relied on a number of its earlier cases that hinted around this conclusion.  In Collins v. State, 817 N.E.2d 230 (Ind. 2004), the Court held that a person who pleads guilty is limited on direct appeal to contesting a sentence not fixed by the plea agreement.  In Norris v. State, 896 N.E.2d 1149 (Ind. 2008), the Court explained that a guilty plea conclusively establishes the fact of guilt.  And, in Tumulty v. State, 666 N.E.2d 394 (Ind. 1996), the Court explained the policy reasons why a defendant cannot challenge his conviction, based upon a guilty plea, on direct appeal.

The quirk in Alvey’s case was the express proviso in his guilty plea reserving the right to appeal the trial court’s denial of his motion to suppress.  Addressing that procedural irregularity, the Indiana Supreme Court held, “A trial court lacks the authority to allow defendants the right to appeal the denial of a motion to suppress evidence when a defendant enters a guilty plea, even where a plea agreement maintains that such an appeal is permitted.”

On remand, the Court gave Alvey the choice either to accept the plea agreement without the right to appeal the suppression order or have the plea vacated.

Justice Boehm dissented, finding no reason not to enforce the plea agreement according to its terms and permit the appeal for which Alvey and the State bargained – a deal that, Justice Boehm noted, would “be honored . . . in several states and in federal court.”



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