Sometimes, a civil or criminal case may seem like litigation is taking longer than expected. There are often motions to continue to reschedule (called Motions to Continue) on the part of each party, joint motions by both parties, and sometimes even by the trial court because of a conflict or another case must be heard first or takes longer than expected. A date set for a final hearing in a divorce may be postponed because parties need to mediate or there needs to be a preliminary hearing first.
Unlike civil cases, however, criminal cases can be requested to be speedy, as it is a greater burden to have a potential incarceration in the balance – the loss of freedom1. A request for a speedy trial avoids the delays that can accompany a case, such as the case being set out by the prosecutor or the Court. However, if the delay is the request of the defendant, the speedy trial may not be guaranteed, because it is the actions and request of the defendant (who originally requested the speedy trial) that have delayed same.
In a recent Court of Appeals case, the Court addressed a situation where the defendant requested a continuance, and that time was used for the trial court to enter a ruling, but the case then was not reset for a year2.
In West’s case, a motion to suppress (keep out evidence) was filed by the defendant. The hearing was reset several times, over the course of approximately two (2) months. When the suppression hearing was held, the trial date was vacated because it was only a week after the suppression hearing and the parties were to submit filings regarding the suppression.
Several other hearings and deadlines were set in the case, but then the case sat dormant for approximately a year. Finally, West filed for a new judge in August, 2011-almost a year after the initial suppression issue.
The Court of Appeals held that those twelve (12) months cannot be attributed to West alone. Here, West was not seeking a continuance for other relief. Rather, he was requesting a continuance for a suppression matter, which may greatly impact his case or make it such that it is dismissed because the key evidence is not available to the prosecution.
The Court of Appeals went on to note it is the duty of the State to bring West to trial within a year, and the court erred when it denied West’s motion for discharge of the case. Therefore, because the trial court did not actively move the case forward, even though it was the defendant’s motion that began the delay, the defendant’s case should be discharged. This is sometimes called a Criminal Rule 4 problem.
Time constraints and rules control the legal and litigation process in many means. In many circumstances, a given time period may have little or no impact on a case. Nevertheless, the more you understand about your case, the more active you can be in helping your attorney work toward your case objectives, even in a criminal matter. In this matter, the failure of the State to bring the defendant to trial within one year of delay not attributable to defendant, violated his right to a speedy trial and required his case to be dismissed.
We hope that this blog has been helpful in understanding time constraints and the appellate review of same. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. practices law throughout the state of Indiana. This blog post was written by attorney, Jessica Keyes.