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Indiana Supreme Court: Speedy Trial Right Violated After 6.5 Years Without Retrial

Stanley V. Watson was convicted by a jury in 2001 of dealing cocaine and, being a repeat offender, was sentenced to 50 years for the drug conviction and 30 years for the habitual-offender enhancement.

After filing a postconviction motion alleging his prior offenses could not be used to justify the enhancement, the State conceded, and the court vacated the 30-year enhancement. In July 2012, the State was granted the right to retry Watson on the enhancement.

From that time until November 27, 2018 (2,325 days), Watson repeatedly sent letters to the court asking to be retried. On November 15, 2018, his counsel filed a motion to dismiss based on violation of Watson’s right to a speedy trial. After his trial was concluded and he was reconvicted, the trial court denied his motion for dismissal. On appeal, the Court of Appeals vacated the conviction based on Indiana Criminal Rule 4(C).

On review by the Indiana Supreme Court, the Court first considered Rule 4(C)’s application.

Rule 4(C) requires the State to bring a defendant to trial within one year of charges being filed or the defendant’s arrest, whichever is later.

Watson argued that based on Poore v. State, 685 N.E.2d 36 (Ind. 1997), which found Rule 4(B)’s speedy trial mandate applies to habitual offender proceedings, that Rule 4(C) also applies.

The Court rejected this argument as it had previously done in State ex rel. Brumfield v. Perry Cir. Ct., 426 N.E.2d 692 (Ind. 1981) (Rule 4(C)’s triggering mechanisms not applicable to retrial of a habitual-offender allegation).

In determining whether a delay in prosecution violates a defendant’s right under the Sixth  Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, courts apply the test from Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (1972). This test also applies to the speedy trial right claims brought under Art. 1, Sec. 12 of the Indiana Constitution. Crawford v. State, 669 N.E.2d 141 (Ind. 1996). Barker’s four factors are: “(1) the length of the delay, (2) the reason for the delay, (3) the defendant’s assertion of the speedy trial right, and (4) any resulting prejudice.”

These factors are nonexclusive and must be considered together in the context of a particular case. Barker. Delays approaching one year generally satisfy the presumptively prejudicial threshold. Doggett v. United States, 505 U.S. 647 (1992); Vermillion v. State, 719 N.E.2d 1201 (Ind. 1999).

The Court observed that the delay in this case (6.5 years) “is over six times the length of the presumptively prejudicial threshold; it exceeds the five-plus years the Barker Court called ‘extraordinary.’” Further, while some longer delays may be justified “dependent on the complexity of a particular case,” the Court said habitual offender allegations are not complex prosecutions.

The Court also assigned a majority of the blame for the delay to the State. While it decided this delay was for neutral reasons and not bad faith, the State was still responsible for 1,360 days –   nearly four years.

The State argued that Watson only officially asserted his right to a speedy trial when his counsel filed the motion to dismiss on November 15, 2018. The Court rejected this argument, finding that Watson had repeatedly asserted his right in letters to the court and objections to the State’s continuances. United States v. Tigano, 880 F.3d 602 (2d Cir. 2018) (a defendant’s assertion –  regardless of actions by counsel – is the relevant consideration).

As to prejudice, the Court found Watson suffered significant anxiety over his pending prosecution. “For over six years – nearly four of which are attributable to the government –  Watson was left to wonder whether he would be released at age seventy-six or die in prison.” Barker (“minimizing the anxiety and concern of the accused” is an “interest[] the speedy trial guarantee was designed to protect”).

The Court found that all four Barker factors weighed in Watson’s favor and thus his right to a speedy trial was violated.

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Related legal case

Watson v. State



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