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Court News Ohio

Delays to Copy Video Footage Did Not Lead to Speedy Trial Time Violation

A Lawrence County man’s right to a speedy trial was not violated because he caused a delay by requesting a copy of his own home surveillance system, the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled today.

The Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the conviction of David Belville on drug trafficking charges. Belville sought to have the charges against him dropped, alleging that the state had exceeded the time allowed by state law to bring him to trial. By statute, the state must bring a defendant charged with a felony to trial within 270 days; when a defendant is in custody, each day counts as three days. However, that time is “ tolled” based on certain events.  

The Lawrence County Prosecutor’s Office successfully argued that there was no speedy-trial violation because the time it took to copy “months” of footage Belville recorded tolled the speedy trial clock.

Writing for the Court majority, Justice R. Patrick DeWine explained that Belville paused the speedy trial clock when he requested a copy of the footage and his attorney turned down an offer to watch the video at the prosecutor’s office.

“A discovery request tolls speedy-trial time for a reasonable amount of time necessary to allow the state to respond to the request. What is reasonable will necessarily be a case-by-case determination and depend on the totality of the circumstances,” he wrote.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Sharon L. Kennedy, Patrick F. Fischer, Michael P. Donnelly, and Jennifer Brunner joined Justice DeWine’s opinion.

Justice Melody Stewart concurred in judgment only, noting the majority opinion is based solely on the reasoning of a 2002 Supreme Court decision that was interpreting a provision of the state’s speedy trial statute for the first time. She wrote the Court should revisit that decision and determine if all discovery requests by a defendant pause the speedy trial clock.

Technology Glitches Delay Discovery
On July 17, 2019, Belville was arrested for his involvement in drug trafficking. He spent two days in jail but was released for medical treatment. Police later rearrested him, and he returned to jail on Sept. 3, where he would remain until his trial date.

In mid-September, Belville requested discovery from the prosecutor’s office. The next day, the office provided Belville much of its case file, totaling about 1,200 pages. That day, the prosecutor also notified Belville it had evidence favorable to him in the form of a digital video recorder (DVR) that was still being reviewed. The DVR was part of Belville’s home surveillance system and was connected to four cameras inside and outside of his home. The DVR stored months of video footage on its hard drive.

The day after providing the initial discovery, the trial court conducted its first pretrial conference. The DVR footage was discussed, and the trial judge noted he was familiar with it because its content was also an issue with several other cases involving associates in Belville’s drug operations. The judge told Belville’s attorney that he could go to the prosecutor’s office to watch the video, or the office could attempt to transfer the footage to another DVR. The parties agreed the first option was not practical.

Because of the way the DVR maintained the video it was not easy to transfer the footage, the prosecutor explained. It required that the office purchase a second DVR and copy the content to the second device.

Over the next five weeks, the trial court conducted three more status conferences, and noted the copying process was proceeding. The state delivered a copy of the DVR to Belville’s lawyer 43 days after the initial request for the video.

Accused Claims Speedy Trial Violation
On Nov. 19, 2019, the day before his trial was to begin, Belville asked the trial court to dismiss the case, stating that his speedy trial rights under R.C. 2945.71 had been violated. Belville argued that the 79 days he was in jail coupled with the 46 days he was released for medical treatment amounted to 283 days.

Belville conceded that the prosecutor was entitled to some tolling of time for the discovery request. He argued that the discovery paused the clock for one day that he was in jail because the state responded by providing the initial discovery the day after he requested it. He argued the time to produce the video was “supplemental discovery” that does not pause the speedy trial clock.

The prosecutor maintained the tolling time included all the time required to provide the DVR copy to Belville. The trial court sided with the prosecutor.

Belville accepted a plea deal and pleaded no contest to a single felony. He was sentenced to 10 to 15 years in prison. Belville appealed his conviction to the Fourth District Court of Appeals, which affirmed the trial court’s decision. Belville appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.

Supreme Court Analyzed Tolling Time
Justice DeWine explained that state law specifies the circumstances that toll the speedy trial clock. Under R.C. 2945.72(E), the time is paused for any period of delay “necessitated by reason of a plea in bar or abatement, motion, proceeding, or action made or instituted by the accused.”

In its 2002 State v. Brown decision, the Court held that a defendant’s discovery request falls under R.C. 2945.72(E), meaning that it can toll the speedy trial clock. In that case, the Court stated that the request diverts the attention of the prosecutors from preparing their case for trial, “thus necessitating delay.”

The Court stated it has never set forth a precise number of days in which the state must respond to a discovery request for the purposes of calculating speedy trial time. In today’s opinion, the Court explained that the prosecutor must respond to a discovery request in a “reasonable time,” pointing out that the Court had had previously adopted this standard in other contexts. 

The Court noted the amount of time to respond might by influenced “by the complexity of the material requested, the good or bad faith of the state, or the steps the state must take to comply with the request.”

The Court concluded the state responded to Belville in a reasonable amount of time. The prosecutor provided updates to the trial court and Belville’s lawyer on the process of copying the footage and offered the attorney the opportunity to watch it at the prosecutor’s office. The opinion noted Belville’s attorney never complained about the pace of the state’s efforts.

“Perhaps one could quibble that the state should have been able to produce the DVR footage in less than 43 days. But even if we were to assume that 43 days was a bit longer than necessary on these facts, we would not find a speedy-trial violation” because all the state needed to show to avoid a speedy trial violation was that tolling occurred for five of the triple-counted days that Belville was in custody, the Court concluded.

Interpretation of Speedy Trial Law Questionable, Concurrence Maintained
In her concurring opinion, Justice Stewart stated that nothing in the state’s speedy trial statutes – R.C. 2945.71 through R.C. 2945.73 – states that a defendant’s discovery request tolls the speedy trial time. She questioned the Court’s holding in Brown and urged the Court to reexamine its holding if properly challenged in a future appeal.

The concurrence noted Rule 16 of the Ohio Rules of Criminal Procedure provides for “reciprocal discovery” between the defendant and the state “to provide all parties in a criminal case with information necessary for a full and fair adjudication of the facts” and “to protect the integrity of the justice system and the rights of the defendants.” Justice Stewart wrote that she doubted state lawmakers intended to force a defendant to give up the right to a speedy trial when asserting a right to discovery from the prosecutor.

She noted the reasons in R.C. 2945.72(E) for delay, such as “a motion, proceeding, or action made or instituted by the accused,” all imply acts by the defendant that seek the trial court’s involvement. She noted Belville did not file any motions with the court that delayed the proceedings.

“Thus, it seems unlikely that the legislature intended to include a defendant’s request for discovery within the parameters of R.C. 2945.72(E) when, unlike a request for discovery, all other tolling events specifically listed in the statute require court intervention,” she wrote.

2021-0483. State v. Belville, Slip Opinion No. 2022-Ohio-3879.

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