Daniels v. State

Citation453 N.E.2d 160
Decision Date09 September 1983
Docket NumberNo. 380S66,380S66
PartiesMichael William DANIELS, Appellant (Defendant below), v. STATE of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff below).
CourtIndiana Supreme Court

Richard Kammen, McClure, McClure & Kammen, Indianapolis, for appellant.

Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen., Palmer K. Ward, Deputy Atty. Gen., Indianapolis, for appellee.

HUNTER, Justice.

The defendant, Michael William Daniels, was convicted by a jury of four counts of robbery, Class A felonies, Ind.Code Sec. 35-42-5-1 (Burns 1979 Repl.), one count of attempted robbery, a Class A felony, Ind.Code Sec. 35-41-5-1, Sec. 35-42-5-1 (Burns 1979 Repl.), and one count of felony murder, Ind.Code Sec. 35-42-1-1(2) (Burns 1979 Repl.). The jury recommended a sentence of death for the felony murder count, Ind.Code Sec. 35-50-2-9 (Burns 1979 Repl.), and defendant was thereafter sentenced to four twenty-year terms of imprisonment and one fifty-year term, all to run consecutively, and death.

His direct appeal challenges the legality of the death sentence and presents the following issues for our review:

1. Whether the trial court erred by rejecting defendant's plea agreement on the basis of matters not present in the record;

2. Whether the trial court erred by excusing certain jurors for cause based upon their beliefs concerning the possible imposition of the death penalty;

3. Whether the trial court erred by failing to grant defendant's motion for mistrial due to improper questioning, remarks, and comments on the evidence by the prosecutor during the penalty phase of the trial;

4. Whether our death sentence statute is unconstitutional, and whether it was improperly applied in this case due to the failure of the trial court to make sufficient written findings concerning the sentence;

5. Whether the trial court erred by denying defendant's motion for change of venue from the county due to prejudicial pretrial publicity;

6. Whether the conviction was unlawful because the state withheld exculpatory evidence and the trial court failed to conduct a hearing on alleged newly discovered evidence; and

7. Whether the trial court erred in allowing the state to amend the charges and add the death penalty request. 1

A brief summary of the facts from the record shows that on January 16, 1978, defendant and two other individuals committed a series of robberies. The three men drove around residential neighborhoods in Indianapolis and stopped at four different residences where they saw people outside in their driveways. At one residence, a wallet was taken from a man who was shoveling snow and his mother was hit on the face. At another residence, where the father and son were both shoveling snow, defendant shot the father, who died at the scene, and took the son's wallet. At another location, a father and daughter were accosted as they got out of their car, and a wallet and purse were taken. Finally, at a fourth residence, a man who was shoveling snow was accosted by a man with a gun and ordered to freeze. This resident ran towards his garage and turned his dog loose. Defendant fired three shots at this man but he survived.


Defendant presented a formal plea bargain agreement to the original trial judge in this case at a hearing on November 18, 1978. He agreed to plead guilty to the six substantive counts of the information. In addition, he agreed to receive maximum prison terms on each of the counts and to testify for the state against a co-defendant. In return, the state agreed to dismiss Count VII of the information which was the death penalty request. After the judge heard extensive evidence, he took the offered plea of guilty under advisement and ordered a presentence investigation report to be prepared. At a hearing on December 13, 1978, the court rejected the plea and set the matter for trial. Defendant now contends that the court's rejection of his plea violated his constitutional rights to waive a jury trial and to be free from double jeopardy and compulsory self-incrimination. He also argues that he has an absolute right to enter a plea of guilty, as long as it is made competently, knowingly, voluntarily, and with advice from counsel, and that the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to accept the plea.

Defendant acknowledges the well-settled proposition that there is no absolute right to have a guilty plea accepted and that a trial court may reject a guilty plea in the exercise of its sound judicial discretion. Santobello v. New York, (1971) 404 U.S. 257, 262, 92 S.Ct. 495, 501, 30 L.Ed.2d 427, 433; Clemons v. State, (1981) Ind., 424 N.E.2d 113; Stowers v. State, (1977) 266 Ind. 403, 363 N.E.2d 978; Wright v. State, (1970) 255 Ind. 292, 264 N.E.2d 67; Stacks v. State, (1978) 175 Ind.App. 525, 372 N.E.2d 1201. He also acknowledges that the trial court fulfilled its responsibility to determine the factual basis of the plea and whether the plea was voluntarily and knowingly made. North Carolina v. Alford, (1970) 400 U.S. 25, 91 S.Ct. 160, 27 L.Ed.2d 162; Stowers v. State, supra.

However, he contends that the court's discretion goes only to the sufficiency of the factual basis of the plea, its voluntariness, and whether there was any abuse of discretion by the prosecutor which harmed the defendant. We find no such limits can be placed upon the court's discretion in accepting or rejecting a guilty plea. The court occupies an impartial position in our judicial system in that it must, as far as possible, protect the interests of all members of our society and provide a neutral forum for the resolution of disputes. In criminal cases, the court must protect a defendant from the power of coercion and abuse of the state, but, on the other hand, it must also protect the interests of other members of our society in living in a peaceful, orderly atmosphere where an individual does not have to live in fear of being shot while shoveling snow in his own driveway.

In this case, the court carefully considered the evidence presented at the guilty plea hearing and the presentence investigation report. He was aware of the fact that the decedent's widow wanted the plea agreement to be accepted. He stated that he realized that a lot of people had put a great deal of time into arranging the plea, including the prosecutors, the defense attorneys, defendant's family, and the family of the deceased. The record shows that he considered all of the circumstances involved in this case for over a month and was especially concerned that the victim's widow, Mrs. Streett, had strongly concurred with the plea arrangement and would be subjected to further emotional stress if the case went to trial. Furthermore, the record shows that the court wanted to have the widow present in the courtroom when he made the determination to reject or accept the plea. When he found out that she wouldn't be available at that time, he talked to her the day before the hearing was scheduled.

Defendant argues that since the judge talked to a person interested in the case without his or his counsel's knowledge, his constitutional rights to confrontation and cross-examination of the witnesses against him were violated. However, the record shows that Mrs. Streett did not actually witness any of the crimes and defendant did not cross-examine her at the trial. The judge stated that the discussion with Mrs. Streett was about her desire that the plea agreement be accepted which was beneficial rather than prejudicial to defendant's position. While we do not condone the court's action in holding an ex parte discussion with Mrs. Streett, we find the defendant has not shown how he was prejudiced under the circumstances of this case. We have often held that this Court cannot assume that bias or prejudice exists, but must rely upon the record to show evidence thereof. Clemons v. State, supra; Kleinrichert v. State, (1973) 260 Ind. 537, 297 N.E.2d 822.

In this case, we find that the record shows that the court was not acting with bias or prejudice against defendant when he rejected the guilty plea, but was concerned with affording the proper credibility and respect to the death penalty statute as a law which had been passed by the General Assembly on behalf of all the citizens of the state. The judge expressed his conclusions in the following words:

"I do want to apologize to Mrs. Streett and the prosecutors and Mr. Bowman and Mr. Cobb. I know that you've worked hard on this, but as I said, I think the interest to be served transcends our own time that we have spent on this. I spent an hour and a half in a guilt plea, too, and you may be right and I would expect you to take whatever steps are necessary to make that determination, but as I said, I--if I accepted the plea, it would be just because of convenience, not because I sincerely believe that it's right. I sincerely believe that I must reject the guilty plea. If we're going to have any semblance of rationality or a rational import from a statute passed by the legislature, I can't think of another case that would more warrant the death penalty than this case, and if we're going to have it on the books, then it should be up to the other members of society composed of a jury and a judge to make that decision."

We find no clear abuse of discretion in the rejection of the guilty plea here, since it was within the trial court's discretion to reject the plea. There was no further prejudice from this issue as the case was subsequently tried before a different judge after the judge involved with the guilty plea hearing had retired.


Defendant next contends that the trial court erred in excusing five jurors for cause after voir dire examination disclosed their views concerning capital punishment. These jurors gave some equivocal answers but all were questioned further before they were excused over defendant's objections.

The United States Supreme Court set out the standard to be followed on voir dire in death penalty cases in Witherspoon v....

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