Porter County Superior Court Judge William Alexa favored a motion last week
for convicted murder Dustin McCowan’s to have his legal counsel present for
his presentence investigation interview with the county probation
department, something that is not entirely common in Indiana.
McCowan was found guilty on a charge of murdering his former girlfriend
Amanda Bach by a jury after a three-week-long trial throughout February.
Whenever someone is convicted of a felony charge, a presentence
investigation report is required, said County Chief Probation Officer
On March 5, McCowan’s defense attorneys John Vouga and Nicholas Barnes filed
a motion for one of them to attend the interview saying the defendant’s
right to Counsel is protected by the sixth and fourteenth amendments of the
U.S. Constitution and also reflected in the Indiana Constitution.
Vouga stated in the motion that in the past, the probation department has
“denied permission” for him and his associates to sit in on clients’
In Federal cases, Vouga told the Tribune, defendants are to have
legal representation present during pre-sentence interviews but in State
cases, the Indiana Supreme Court had ruled that the procedure is “not a
critical stage” to require the presence of a counsel.
Most probation departments throughout the state, including Porter County,
prefer defense attorneys stay out of the interview because they believe the
attorney could somehow interfere, Vouga said. However, in his view Vouga
said having an attorney present is to ensure that the client’s rights are
In the motion, Vouga and Barnes argue that the “refusal to allow
participation of an attorney is unfair and serves no purpose” because the
right to counsel is a constitutional right recognized by the state.
Vouga said he encourages his clients to cooperate fully in the interviews
and “99 percent of the time” he agrees with the questions the probation
department asks. The one problem he has seen in the past is when the
department asks the defendant to give their version of the events in the
case. Vouga said he is concerned the probation officer giving the interview
could “manipulate” the client’s account in the presentence report which
could lead to a more “aggravating” sentence from the judge.
Meyer said he understands “where Vouga is coming from” with this being a
“I don’t have a problem with it,” Meyer said.
The probation department “philosophically” doesn’t ask lawyers to be there
for the interview because it could be a hindrance on what information the
The defendant has the right not to answer questions if he or she wishes not
to, Meyer said.
Vouga said he tells his clients they can direct the probation officers to
refer to the details in the probable cause affidavit as their version of the
The purpose of the presentence report is to give the judge an opinion of the
defendant’s character and what his or her needs are, Meyer said. Questions
asked in the interview focus on the defendant’s education, employment
history, financial status, mental health, family life, medical history, and
drug use if any.
Meyer said the report also includes a victim impact statement, a risk
assessment, and a recommendation on sentencing.
The probation department can also get a signed resolution from the judge to
ask persons other than the defendant for information, Meyer said.
The information contained in the report is kept confidential, he added. The
only ones who can see the report are the judge, the defense attorneys and
the prosecuting attorneys.
The report is given at least one week before sentencing, Meyer said. It is
one factor in the judge’s sentencing. The judge will also hear remarks from
the defense and prosecuting attorneys.
Alexa granted the motion the same day it was received and ordered that the
probation department coordinate with the counsel to attend the interview.
Vouga said Barnes attended McCowan’s interview last Friday afternoon, March
8, and reported “no problems.”
“It went wonderful. Dustin was fully cooperative,” said Vouga.
McCowan is scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday, March 28, in Alexa’s
courtroom at 2 p.m.