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Colorado Supreme Court: Defendant Has No Duty to Bring Himself to Trial

The Supreme Court of Colorado ruled that Edward Kevin DeGreat had no duty to bring himself to trial and ordered his charges dismissed with prejudice for violation of his right to a speedy trial.

In October 2018, the Supreme Court of Colorado affirmed the court of appeals’ decision reversing DeGreat’s conviction for aggravated robbery, concluding that he was entitled to a new trial where he could introduce evidence that he had acted in self-defense. People v. DeGreat, 428 P.3d 541 (Colo. 2018).

On November 6, 2018, the court of appeals issued a mandate returning jurisdiction of the case to the Arapahoe County District Court for the purpose of a new trial. On December 3, 2018, the district court issued a scheduling order directing counsel for DeGreat and for the People to contact chambers to set the case for a status conference at “the soonest available date.” The public defender’s office entered an appearance on behalf of DeGreat on December 6, 2018, and then no further action was taken by the court, the People, or defense counsel.

On June 4, 2019, DeGreat filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that the failure to commence trial within six months of the issuance of the mandate from the court of appeals violated his statutory right to a speedy trial.

Neither the district court nor the People responded to the motion. DeGreat then filed two subsequent requests for a ruling on the motion, first on July 19, 2019, and again on August 30, 2019, both of which likewise received no response. Then on October 16, 2019, the district court denied the motion to dismiss, stating it was unwarranted “[g]iven the failure of all counsel to comply” with the court’s December 3, 2018 scheduling order. The district court reasoned that “[a]ny delay in the instant case is attributable to both the People and Defendant and thus tolls speedy trial” and set a status conference for November 25, 2019, to discuss how to proceed with DeGreat’s retrial.

DeGreat initiated an original proceeding in the Colorado Supreme Court under C.A.R. 21, arguing that the district court’s failure to abide by the statutory six-month deadline for retrial stripped that court of jurisdiction to proceed with DeGreat’s pending charges. Because DeGreat claimed he was entitled to dismissal of the charges without being subjected to a retrial, an appellate remedy would be inadequate because he must be retried before he could avail himself of an appeal. Therefore, the Supreme Court determined he was entitled to an “extraordinary remedy” and chose to exercise its jurisdiction under C.A.R. 21. People v. Kilgore, 455 P.3d 746 (Colo. 2020).

The Court observed that “Colorado’s speedy trial statute is intended to safeguard a defendant’s constitutional right to a speedy trial and to prevent unnecessary prosecutorial and judicial delays in the prosecution of a criminal case.” Mosely v. People, 392 P.3d 1198 (Colo. 2017). The statute provides that “[i]f trial results in conviction which is reversed on appeal, any new trial must be commenced within six months after the date of the receipt by the trial court of the mandate from the appellate court.” C.R.S. § 18-1-405(2). The trial court and the prosecuting attorney are responsible for ensuring that a case is brought to trial within the statutory speedy trial limits. Hills v. Westminster Mun. Court, 245 P.3d (Colo. 2011).

The defendant has no duty to bring himself to trial. Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (1972). The defendant’s only affirmative duty under Colorado’s speedy trial statute is to move for dismissal when the statute is violated. Harrington v. Dist. Court, 559 P.2d 225 (Colo. 1977). The statute requires dismissal of the case whenever the defendant is not retried within the six-month period, unless the delay qualifies for one of the exclusions set out in C.R.S. § 18-1-405(6). People v. Deason, 670 P.2d 792 (Colo. 1983). The trial court has no discretion to make exceptions to the six-month rule beyond those enumerated in the statute. People v. Byrne, 762 P.2d 784 (Colo. 1988).

Any period of delay caused by the defendant must be excluded from the six-month period. C.R.S. § 18-1-405(6)(f). To be caused by the defendant, he must demonstrate “express consent to the delay or other affirmative conduct” evincing a clear intent to waive the right to a speedy trial. People v. Bell, 669 P.2d 1381 (Colo. 1983). His conduct must be the “moving force” behind the delay. Id.

The Colorado Supreme Court determined that DeGreat had done all that was required of him to secure his rights when he filed his motion to dismiss. The district court’s finding that DeGreat contributed to the delay by failing to respond to the district court’s order of December 3, 2018, flew in the face of the Court’s speedy-trial jurisprudence. But even accepting the district court’s reasoning, DeGreat’s statutory right to a speedy trial was denied. The district court issued its initial order on December 3, 2018, which was 27 days after the court of appeals’ mandate. The district court didn’t set the first status conference until November 25, 2019, which was 174 days after DeGreat filed his motion to dismiss on June 4, 2019. Consequently, even if the period from the time of the district court’s initial order until the filing of the motion to dismiss was attributed as delay caused by DeGreat and excluded from the time period, his retrial still did not commence until 201 days after issuance of the mandate.

The Court concluded that DeGreat was not brought to trial within the six-month statutory period, and the delay was not properly attributable to him.

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Related legal case

In re People v. DeGreat



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