Supreme Court 12/16/10

The Supreme Court today did away with the State’s ability to amend an indictment after a conviction.  In Gowdy v. State, Gowdy was indicted for Felony DUI.  He was set for trial on February 4, 2009.  The morning of the trial, he was offered a plea bargain of one year to serve and two years of post-release supervision.  Gowdy rejected the offer and proceeded to trial.  The jury voted to convict.  The following day, the State informed the Court that it had just received information as to Gowdy’s prior convictions in Iowa and that they would seek to amend the indictment to reflect habitual status.  Sentencing was held two months later and Gowdy was sentenced under Section 99-19-83 to life imprisonment.  Gowdy appealed the life sentence.

 

The majority held that an amendment shall be allowed only if the defendant is afforded a fair opportunity to present a defense and is not unfairly surprised.  “We find that, in line with Akins, an amendment to the indictment to allege habitual status after conviction is an unfair surprise.”  The dissent states that habitual status is not an offense, and thus has no bearing on the indictment.  I have to agree with that.  It also states that there is no constitutional right to a plea bargain.  Again, correct.  However, there has to be fairness for a justice system to properly work.  It is not fair for a person to exercise their constitutional right to a trial and if they lose, be subject to a penalty that they were not subject to during trial.  All today’s ruling states is that a defendant has to be made completely aware of the entirety of the penalty they are facing.  Rule 8.04 of the Uniform Circuit and County Rules  states before a defendant can plead guilty, the trial court has a duty to ensure that he “understands the nature and consequences of the plea, and the maximum and minimum penalties provided by law.” “The rule should not be different for defendants who choose to exercise their right to trial by jury.”

 

On a tangential note, the dissent points out that seventy days passed between Gowdy being made aware of the convictions and the proposed amendment and the sentencing hearing and that Gowdy could not have been unfairly surprised.  “Further, the record is clear that the State did not have the information at the time it offered the plea deal to Gowdy.”  Forgetting the fact that the State got the information it did not have the day of trial, the day after trial, the State had arrested and indicted Gowdy approximately 10 months prior to the trial.  Why a duty, a duty laid out in UCCR 9.04 (A) (3) “The prosecution must disclose… Copy of the criminal record of the defendant, if proposed to be used to impeach”, the State had is weighed against the Defendant, and not the State, I don’t know.

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