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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Ind. Courts - "Does Court backlog violate right to speedy trial?"

Madeline Buckley has this story today in the South Bend Tribune, about Scott Logan v. State of Indiana, a Feb. 28th NFP opinion granted transfer last week by the Supreme Court. Some quotes from the long story:

Scott Logan waited for trial for three and a half years before a judge sentenced the Elkhart County man to six years in prison for a child molesting conviction.

He spent more than two of those years in jail, until the Indiana Supreme Court ordered his release due to court rules that say defendants can’t be held indefinitely while awaiting trial.

Logan, 42, asked several times early in the case that his trial be rescheduled following his August 2009 arrest for Class C felony child molesting.

Then for years after that, Elkhart Superior Court Judge George Biddlecome rescheduled the case multiple times due to a congested court calendar amid requests from Logan’s defense team for a speedy trial.

A jury heard the case in February 2013 and found Logan guilty. Biddlecome handed down the sentence in March of that year.

Now, Logan is appealing his conviction, arguing that his constitutional right to a speedy trial was violated, and that the judge should have dismissed his case.

The Indiana Supreme Court agreed last week to hear the case, which poses questions about the rights of the defendants versus the realities of crowded court dockets. * * *

Logan’s attorney John Kindley is arguing that the court erred in attributing the time passed to the defendant rather than the state.

“If congestion is found over and over, the case can basically go on indefinitely,” Kindley said, though he noted the case at hand alleges specific erroneous applications of congestion exception.

Kindley’s petition to transfer the case to the high court says the judge improperly heard a newer case before hearing Logan’s case.

It also argues the Appeals Court both miscalculated the number of days in delay that were attributable to the defendant and violated precedent by attributing time to the defendant that he did not request.

Kindley said the length of time Logan spent waiting for trial is troublesome in that it could cause the defendant to plead guilty just to get out of jail.

“In this case, my client was held in jail without a trial for longer than the advisory sentence applicable to the charge he was facing,” Kindley said, including good time credit. “I think it becomes very problematic to do that.”

The advisory sentence for a Class C felony is four years in prison, but Indiana law says defendants can earn day-for-day credit for good behavior.

“Supposing that many defendants … are offered by the state plea agreements to the advisory sentence,” Kindley wrote in the petition to transfer, “it is very easy to suppose that many of them succumb to this great ‘pressure’ by pleading guilty, whether they’re guilty or not, when by doing so, they can secure their immediate release from incarceration.”

But prosecutors say both parties are allowed to give input on a trial date in the event of court congestion, and the defense can object and ask for an earlier trial.

“When a case is continued due to congestion, both sides are given the opportunity to agree upon a court date,” said Heather Norman, spokeswoman for the Elkhart County Prosecutor’s Office, though she said the office does not comment specifically on cases being appealed.

Biddlecome said he moves through his docket by trying the oldest cases that involve incarcerated defendants first, according to trial transcripts included in Logan’s appellate brief.

The Tribune published a story last year that described cases in Biddlecome’s court backlogged for years, some lingering for four or five years, affecting both the defendant and the purported victims, as the judge handles many molestation cases.

“I can assure you that each case is tried as quickly as possible given the scheduling considerations outlined above and applicable Indiana law,” Biddlecome wrote to The Tribune in 2013.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 22, 2014 09:38 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts