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COA tosses in absentia conviction of Army private

July 31, 2014

A 20-year-old U.S. Army private had his conviction for underage drinking overturned because Hendricks Superior Court denied his motion for a continuance and held the trial while he was deployed in Afghanistan.

William Calvert was charged with illegal consumption of alcohol by a minor, a Class C misdemeanor, after the Hendricks County Sheriff’s Department found him and his friends drinking at a Plainfield residence.

The trial date was rescheduled several times both by the court acting on its own and by the defense attorney. One day before the hearing was set to begin, Calvert’s lawyer again notified the court that the defendant was serving overseas and filed another motion for a continuance.

The prosecution objected, noting the several previous continuances were creating an undue hardship for the state’s witness. The trial court denied the defense motion and proceeded to try Calvert in absentia. Subsequently, Calvert was found guilty and sentenced to 60 days and 58 days suspended.

Calvert appealed, arguing the trial court erred when it tried him in absentia.

The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed and reversed the conviction in William T. Calvert v. State of Indiana, 32A01-1312-CR-535.
 
“Here, Calvert’s deployment to Afghanistan justified a continuance of his trial,” Judge Edward Najam wrote for the court. “The State of Indiana cannot compel a defendant’s presence for a judicial proceeding while, at the same time, the United States compels his absence for active duty in military service overseas.”

The Court of Appeals was not persuaded by the state’s argument against the continuance because of the inconvenience the delay would cause for its witness. The COA noted any hardship was outweighed by the prejudice suffered by Calvert when he was denied the opportunity to be present at his trial.

 

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