Merit Decision. The Filing of a Motion to Suppress by one Criminal Defendant does not Automatically Toll a Co-Defendant’s Speedy Trial Time. State v. Ramey.

On June 28, 2012, the Supreme Court of Ohio issued a merit decision in State v. Ramey,  2012-Ohio-2904. In a unanimous opinion written by Chief Justice O’Connor, the Court held that the filing of a motion to suppress by one criminal defendant does not automatically toll a co-defendant’s speedy trial time.

On October 7, 2009, Keith Ramey and Jonathan Keeton were arrested and then jointly indicted for aggravated robbery, felonious assault and breaking and entering, stemming from a theft at a tattoo parlor in Springfield Ohio. The robbery and assault charges contained a firearm specification. The state opted to try the two defendants together. After their arrest, Keeton was released on bond, but Ramey remained jailed until the trial.

At a pretrial conference on December 21, 2009, lawyers for both defendants told the trial court they would be filing pretrial motions. The next day Keeton filed a motion to suppress physical evidence seized from his father’s house, and statements he had made when he was arrested.  Ramey never filed any pretrial motions.  The trial court heard and overruled Keeton’s motions on January 5, 2010, and issued a scheduling order the next day, which stated that both lawyers had indicated their availability for trial beginning on February 1.  The trial was continued one extra day because the courtroom was unavailable on February 1.

On February 1, Ramey moved to dismiss the indictments for failure to try him within time.  Because he was jailed, the law requires that he be tried within ninety days. The court denied the motion on the ground that the matter had been continued by agreement of the parties. Ramey was convicted of four counts and sentenced accordingly. In the aspect of the case pertinent to this appeal, (the procedural posture is convoluted, and clearly explained in the opinion) the Second District Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s overruling of Ramey’s dismissal motion, on the grounds that Ramey’s speedy trial time was tolled by Keeton’s filing of a motion to suppress.

Some Fundamentals

The Supreme Court began by noting that the right to a speedy trial is a fundamental right for the accused under both the U.S. and Ohio constitutions. It is interesting how much more routinely the Court now cites the state, as well as the federal, constitution on such matters. In Ohio, this is codified at R.C. 2945.71, the speedy trial statute. The Court first found that Ramey was tried 118 days after his arrest, not the ninety days the law requires for a jailed defendant.

Waiver

A criminal defendant can waive speedy trial time. In State v. King, 70 Ohio St.3d 158, 637 N.E.2d 903 (1994),  at the syllabus, the Court held that “To be effective, an accused’s waiver of his or her constitutional and statutory rights to a speedy trial must be expressed in writing or made in open court on the record.”  As in the King case, the Court here found there was no definitive evidence of waiver, because neither Ramey nor his lawyer executed a written waiver of speedy-trial rights or expressly waived Ramey’s rights in open court on the record. The prosecution urged the Court to find an implied speedy trial waiver in this case.  The Court refused, finding that to do so would require it to ignore the unequivocal nature of its holding in King. So, next it turned to tolling.

Tolling

R.C. 2745.72 contains the exclusive list of things that can extend the speedy time requirements. The filing of pretrial motions by a co-defendant is not among them.  And the Court refused to add this reason to the statute—this Court doesn’t do stuff like that. So the holding of the case is that a co-defendant’s filing of pretrial motions does not automatically toll the time in which a defendant must be brought to trial. But wait!  It’s not over.

Continuance Other Than on the  Accused’s Own Motion

R.C. 2945.72(H) permits the speedy-trial clock to be tolled for the “period of any continuance granted on the accused’s own motion, and the period of any reasonable continuance granted other than upon the accused’s own motion.” This is where the messy record in this case comes into play.

The Supreme Court first held that the first part of section (H) was not implicated in Ramey’s case. Mere acquiescence to a trial setting by trial counsel, which the Court found is what had happened here, is not a continuance on the accused’s own motion.  It is significant that the Court made the finding that defense counsel in this case had “merely acquiesced” to the trial date.  At oral argument, the state had argued that the defense counsel had agreed to the trial date.  Defense counsel emphatically disagreed, arguing that indicating availability was not the same thing as agreeing to the trial date.

But the Supreme Court also found that the second part of R.C.2945.72(H) was implicated in Ramey’s case—which allows for a  continuance other than on the accused’s own motion, as long as it is reasonable. The Court held that the trial court had discretion to extend the trial date beyond the statutory time limit, if the continuance was reasonable, as required by the second clause of subsection (H).

State v. Mincey

The syllabus of  State v. Mincey, 2 Ohio St.3d 6, 441 N.E.2d 571 (1982)  holds “When sua sponte granting a continuance under R.C. 2945.72(H), the trial court must enter the order of continuance and the reasons therefor by journal entry prior to the expiration of the time limit prescribed in R.C. 2945.71 for bringing a defendant to trial.”

That didn’t happen in this case. But, the Supreme Court was forgiving because under the Second District’s then-existing precedent, now reversed, a co-defendant’s motion did toll the speedy trial time of the other defendant.  So the Court found that the trial court ( the case had been re-assigned to a probate judge, apparently unfamiliar with such issues) “acted upon the mistaken belief that the time for trial was automatically extended by both Keeton’s filing of pretrial motions to suppress and Ramey’s counsel’s acquiescence in the trial date.” And, the Chief wrote, “we have recognized that an appellate court may affirm a conviction challenged on speedy-trial grounds even if the trial court did not expressly enumerate any reasons justifying the delay when the reasonableness of the continuance is otherwise affirmatively demonstrated by the record.”

Remand

The case was sent back to the court of appeals to determine, based solely on the existing record, (not on after the fact justifications) that the continuance was reasonable under the second part of R.C. 2945.72(H).

Concluding Observations

Chief Justice O’Connor is really to be complimented here.  The record in this case was such a mess and the oral argument got so wrapped up in what was or wasn’t in the record, that that I didn’t think the Court would even reach the merits of the issue presented.  I was wrong, and I’m glad I was, because as I said at the time, the issue was worth answering.  Not only did the Court answer the question before it, but did so in a clear and unequivocal manner, underscoring a first principle that the statutory extensions of the speedy trial requirements are to be “strictly construed, and not liberalized in favor of the state.” And I think it is good law to hold that the filing of a motion to suppress by one  defendant does not automatically toll a co-defendant’s speedy trial time. I’m a little surprised the Court didn’t turn that into a syllabus (the case has none).  And I did correctly see a remand to the appeals court, to sort out the messy details of the case.

 

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