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Monday, August 05, 2013

Ind. Courts - "In one Elkhart court, child cases linger for years"

A series by Virginia Black and Madeline Buckley of the South Bend Tribune, examining justice in sex crimes, will run every Sunday in August, according to Buckley. The series is titled "Hidden Horrors: How sex crimes ruin lives and challenge our justice system"; and has a webpage.

Yesterday there were four stories. One of them is headed "In one Elkhart court, child cases linger for years." Some quotes:

GOSHEN -- After his family staged an intervention because of his cigarette and marijuana smoking, the teenager finally confessed that a 47-year-old man he knew had been forcing him to perform sex acts since the boy was 12.

Prosecutors allege that man was James Hinkle of Elkhart, who was then charged with several sex crimes — including sexual misconduct with a minor, felony child molesting and being a repeat sexual offender — on the very last day of 2008.

Court records show a trial for Hinkle — who bonded out of jail within a few weeks of being charged — has been delayed a dozen times, now scheduled for Aug. 26. * * *

Hinkle's case is set to be heard in front of Judge George Biddlecome, who presides over Elkhart County's Superior Court 3. The judge is assigned all of the county's child victim cases except murder.

Yet a glance through the docket sheet of Hinkle's case shows a pattern of these types of cases lingering four, five, even six years before going to trial. * * *

Judge Biddlecome responded by letter to a reporter's questions about the backlog in his court, particularly among the cases involving child victims. He explained that in addition to those cases, his court is also assigned all kidnapping and criminal confinement cases, half of all Class A, B and C felony controlled substance sale and possession cases, in addition to some civil cases and A felony cases not assigned to other courts.

Also, priority is set for defendants who have not bonded out of jail, he wrote.

The judge schedules multiple cases on each trial date. "As a general rule the case in which a defendant has been in custody the longest proceeds first. If that case is resolved, or continued because of exigent circumstances, the next case takes its place," Biddlecome wrote. "When it becomes apparent that a particular case will be tried on the date in question, the remainder of the cases set for trial on that date are continued due to court congestion."

Biddlecome explained the trial dates available for defendants who are "at liberty" are limited.

"Very few defendants who are charged with child molesting in this court post bond," he wrote. "Those who do are generally charged with child molesting as a Class C felony. While I certainly appreciate the gravity of any child molesting allegation, Class C felonies are the least serious of the various types of child molesting which may be charged in Indiana."

"I can assure you that each case is tried as quickly as possible given the scheduling considerations outlined above and applicable Indiana law," he concluded.

Last year, a split Indiana Supreme Court ordered a defendant in Biddlecome’s court to be released on his own recognizance because he had been arrested Aug. 7, 2009, and was still jailed, waiting for trial, when they ruled in May 2012.

Scott Logan of Nappanee was ultimately convicted of C felony child molesting in February and sentenced in March to six years in prison — with nearly three years in credit for the time he’d already spent in jail awaiting trial. * * *

Several years ago, Indiana's Supreme Court ruled that courts develop a way to file cases that would address backlogs. Each county's individual set of rules are available online.

In St. Joseph County, rules lay out a process that assigns cases randomly, and calls for a chief judge to be elected among the judges every two years to handle administrative issues such as transferring cases.

In contrast, Elkhart County defines specifically which types of cases are to go to each of its six superior courts and one circuit court, with no chief judge or other way defined to address congestion issues.

Elkhart Circuit Court Terry Shewmaker, asked what could be done about a possible backlog in another court in the county, said, "I spend my time working on my things. I'm not really responsible for watching other courts."

Posted by Marcia Oddi on August 5, 2013 10:11 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts