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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Ind. Courts - " Judge switches up trial process; says problems caused by late plea agreements made in jury trials" [Updated]

Caitlin Huston reports in the Logansport Pharos-Tribune in a long story that begins:

Cass Superior II Judge Rick Maughmer is putting the responsibility for setting jury trials on lawyers due to issues caused by guilty pleas being entered shortly before the trial date.

Maughmer said lawyers will be responsible for setting the dates because often juries are being called, but not used, when plea agreements were filed close to the trial date. When guilty pleas are entered so close to the jury trials, lawyers and prosecutors say it’s harder to prepare and the court loses money.

To combat the problem of jury trials falling through, Maughmer said the court had previously decided to schedule multiple jury trials a day, so that the jury would be used in at least one of the cases.

However, Maughmer said this did not work as cases were resolved between final pretrial conferences and jury trials about 10 times in 2012.

“It’s been a process challenge,” Maughmer said.

While the court formerly provided a jury trial date early in the proceedings, Maughmer said he would only set a final pretrial conference and then wait for attorneys or prosecutors to request a trial date.

With the multiple jury trials scheduled on one day, Attorney Jim Brugh said attorneys would often spend time preparing for a trial, only to have it pushed to another day. That meant that attorneys would have to prepare for the same trial multiple times before it finally happened.

Attorney Matthew Barrett said having jury trials pushed to another day or canceled because of a plea agreement also creates problems for witnesses who have already scheduled the day off work or who have to travel long distances.

[Updated almost immediately] The ILB has received several reactions already, including this one from attorney Cara Wieneke:
I just see more problems than solutions with this new plan.

Problem #1: what happens when a defendant acts for his "fast and speedy"? I believe the judge is required to set a jury trial date within 70 days. Is the judge not going to?

Problem #2: let's say the defendant doesn't do anything at all. Then the onus is completely on the prosecutor to make sure a date is set. Because if the prosecutor doesn't do it within 365 days, the case gets dismissed.

How this problem is often handled in other counties: judges set a final date after which they won't entertain any further plea agreements. It seems to work pretty well.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 22, 2013 09:40 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts