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Friday, September 26, 2014

Ind. Decision - "State Supreme Court rules court backlog violated rights"

Re Wednesday's speedy trial decision by the Indiana Supreme Court, Scott Logan v. State of Indiana (ILB sumary here), Madeline Buckley of the South Bend Tribune reported yesterday evening in a long story:

The Indiana Supreme Court called an Elkhart defendant's almost 1,300-day wait to face trial "considerable, unfortunate and inexcusable," and the unanimous decision urged trial judges around the state to deviate from normal practice when necessary to ensure court congestion does not cause undue delay.

The court on Wednesday vacated a child molesting conviction for Scott Logan. The 43-year-old man was accused of the Class C felony in July 2009, but didn't go to trial until February 2013. A judge sentenced him to six years in prison.

The decision indicates waits for trial due to court congestion must be within the realm of reason, but prosecutors say it's still unclear what is reasonable.

Elkhart Superior Court Judge George Biddlecome heard Logan's case. The judge rescheduled the man's trial multiple times through the years because of his full court docket.

Logan's appeal posed questions about managing a crowded docket while ensuring the right to a speedy trial.

"Certainly what the Supreme Court is trying to convey is that trial courts have the responsibility — even though (state law) allows for a congested calendar exception — to bring a defendant to trial within a reasonable amount of time," said John Kindley, Logan's defense attorney.

The Supreme Court opinion, authored by Justice Steven H. David, notes that only 12 percent of the 1,300 days that spanned the wait for trial were due to Logan asking for more time to prepare a defense.

An Indiana law, called criminal rule 4, says prosecutors must bring a defendant to trial within a year of filing charges, except in cases of court congestion and when the defendant asks for more time.

The decision found that the trial court was in compliance with that state law, but the Supreme Court ruled more broadly that Logan's constitutional rights were violated.

"We are not suggesting, nor implying, that our trial judges must do the impossible," the opinion reads. "We are simply reiterating that they are the gatekeepers of justice."

The Supreme Court recommended judges go outside regular practice when court congestion jeopardizes a speedy trial. For example, the opinion read, judges could delegate tasks to magistrates, delay civil trials and start criminal trials mid-week, rather than the usual Monday.

Though the court offered suggestions, Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill said prosecutors and judges have to adjudicate cases with shared and sometimes limited court time.

"The decision suggests courts have further responsibility to make adjustments beyond criminal rule 4," Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill said. "That makes it a bit tricky exactly what the courts are supposed to do in that situation." * * *

The Supreme Court decision noted Logan almost served the length of his six-year sentence — including Indiana's day-for-day credit — before his trial began.

"To hold someone in jail for that amount of time to where he was basically held in jail well above what the advisory sentence was, there is a real risk there could be tremendous pressure to plead guilty," Kindley said. "Otherwise they could be sitting in jail for who knows how long."

Posted by Marcia Oddi on September 26, 2014 11:31 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions