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Court News Ohio

Trumbull County Woman’s Speedy-Trial Rights Not Violated by Documentation Deficiencies

A criminal defendant’s right to a speedy trial is not violated when requests for continuances are not specifically identified in a court’s written entries or the entries do not explain the precise reason for delays, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled today.

In a 5-2 decision, the Court reinstated Danielle K. Martin’s conviction in Trumbull County for driving under the influence and other misdemeanor charges stemming from a November 2015 arrest. The decision reversed an Eleventh District Court of Appeals decision. The appeals court faulted the trial court for not recording which party requested the continuances, and ruled those delays count against the state when not journalized.

Writing for the Court majority, Justice Melody J. Stewart stated that when it is clear from the record that Martin’s lawyers requested the delays, those delays are attributed to her even if the court’s written entries failed to note who made the requests.

“When the fact and circumstances of the case show that the underlying source of the delay was attributable to the defendant, it would make a mockery of justice to attribute the delay to the state,” Justice Stewart wrote.

Justices Sharon L. Kennedy, Judith L. French, R. Patrick DeWine, and Michael P. Donnelly joined Justice Stewart’s opinion.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justice Patrick F. Fischer stated they would dismiss the appeal as having been improvidently accepted.

Accused Seeks Speedy Trial, Attorney Negotiates for Plea Deal
Martin was arrested on Nov. 21, 2015, and released from jail on Nov. 23 following her first court appearance. She did not waive her rights to a speedy trial. Criminal defendants are guaranteed the right to a speedy trial under the U.S. and Ohio constitutions, and Ohio wrote the guarantees into state law. R.C. 2945.71 states how long the government has to bring a person to trial and R.C 2945.72 explains how to enforce the constitutional speedy-trial requirements, including how to toll, or stop, the computation of time when parties seek extensions.
Under R.C. 2945.71, the government had 90 days to bring Martin to trial — a period of time that was subject to tolling. The trial court conducted pretrial hearings in December 2015 and in January and February of 2016. At all three hearings Martin’s attorney asked for continuances to have adequate time to prepare for trial and discuss a plea deal with Martin. The trial court judge did not note in the court’s journal entries that Martin’s attorney had requested the delays.

On March 14, Martin’s attorney told the court he could not reach a deal with the Trumbull County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, and the court set a trial date for March 28. Before the court date, the trial was rescheduled for May 2 and the court’s entry stated the reason was “for good cause shown.” The trial judge later would explain that he learned that Martin’s attorney was suffering from a serious illness that necessitated the delay. Before May 2, the court was informed that the illness continued and the judge set the trial for May 16.

Accused Switches Attorneys
On the date of the trial, Martin’s attorney withdrew from the case because of the ongoing medical issues, and the trial court continued the case so that Martin could secure a new lawyer. A pretrial hearing was set for June 20.

Before that date, Martin’s new attorney requested to reschedule the June 20 hearing. On June 29, the attorney asked the trial court to dismiss the charges, alleging that Martin’s speedy-trial rights had been violated because of delays by the court.

The trial judge denied the motion in August, and explained the circumstances surrounding each delay. When factoring in the events that stopped the speedy-trial clock, only 36 days of Martin’s speedy trial time had elapsed on the date her new lawyer alleged that her rights were violated, the judge concluded.

In September, Martin requested that the judge reconsider the decision, arguing that the period of delays between December 2015 and March 2016 should be attributed to the state because the court failed to record in its journal entries that Martin’s lawyer requested the continuances.

The judge denied the request, and Martin pleaded no contest to the charges. She appealed her convictions to the Eleventh District Court of Appeals.

Appeal Court Overturns Convictions
The Eleventh District reversed the trial court’s decision after finding that the entire 112-day delay from the day before her first court appearance to March 14, 2016, must be charged to the state because of the trial court’s failure to record who requested the continuances in its journal entries. The Eleventh District noted that it relied on its own 1983 State v. Geraldo decision in arriving at its conclusion.

The Eleventh District went further and found that even if the time between December 2015 and March 2016 — when her first attorney requested continuances — was charged against Martin, there were still 91 days of time chargeable to the state between the time Martin was arrested and the September date when her motion to reconsider was denied. The Eleventh District counted the time between March and May — when the trial court was notified of the attorney’s illness — against the state because the trial judge did not write a justification for the continuance in the court’s journal, beyond simply stating that the trial was continued “for good cause shown.”

The Trumbull County prosecutor appealed the Eleventh District’s decision to the Supreme Court.

Notations Do Not Need to Be Specific
Justice Stewart wrote that the appeals court ignored the Ohio Supreme Court’s 2002 State v. Myers decision when it counted the delays not written in the journal entries. In Myers¸ the Court explained journal entries need not identify the defendant as the requesting party for speedy-trial purposes as long as the record demonstrates the defendant requested the continuances.

The record in Martin’s case clearly shows her attorney requested the continuances between December 2015 and March 2016, and the trial judge correctly concluded only 36 days of speedy-trial time had run until March 28, 2016, the opinion stated.

The Court majority also disregarded the Eleventh District’s “alternative reasoning” for finding that 91 days had elapsed, noting that at the trial- and appeals-court levels Martin only argued the delay should be attributed to the state due to the trial court’s failure to note in its journal entries which party made the requests. The opinion stated that an appeals court should not decide cases on new issues not raised by the parties without giving both sides notice of its intention to do so and time to prepare the arguments.

Court Rejects Specific Reasons Requirement
The Eleventh District’s alternative reasoning charged the dates between March 28 and May 2 to the state when the trial judge delayed the case after Martin’s attorney reported he was ill. Citing the Ohio Supreme Court’s 1982 State v. Mincy decision, the Eleventh District ruled that when a trial court on its own, sua sponte, continues a case, it must journalize the reasons for the delay. The Eleventh District found the judge’s notation of “for good cause shown” did not meet the Mincy requirement.

The Supreme Court majority wrote that Martin never argued that the delay for the illness should be charged to the state and did not object to how it was characterized in the journal entry. The Court also stated that the reason for the delay was not the result of the court’s action, but rather the request by Martin’s attorney to withdraw and allow her time to find another lawyer.

The opinion explained that Martin’s circumstances “cannot neatly be resolved” by applying the Myers or Mincy decisions because it was not clear whether Martin’s attorney explicitly requested the continuances, or allowed the court to enter the continuances because of his illness. Nevertheless, the majority found that the record supports its finding that the trial court did not, on its own, continue the trial such that its journal entries needed to specify its reasons for entering the continuances.

“In cases such as these, hard-line rules announced in decisions such as Myers and Mincy serve only as guideposts for a court’s analysis. Reviewing courts must focus on the underlying source of the delay,” the opinion stated.

The Court found that because the underlying delays were attributable to Martin’s legal team, no speedy-trial violation occurred.

2017-1463. State v. Martin, Slip Opinion No. 2019-Ohio-2010.

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