Appellate court delays, blame

August 14, 2008
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From IL reporter Michael Hoskins, who attended today's arguments: 

The Indiana Supreme Court is delving into interesting issues that hit on speedy criminal trials and how appellate court delays have a role in that process. Of course, a comment made during arguments Thursday morning touches on appellate court efficiency and how that does, or doesn’t, impact the system.

Arguments can be viewed online here by clicking on the name of the case, Robert J. Pelley v. State. It is a South Bend case in which justices are being asked to reinstate four murder convictions against a Lakeville man accused of killing his family as a teenager two decades ago. At issue is how the local prosecutors, when filing charges in 2002, filed an interlocutory appeal based on a motion from a third party that sought to stop counseling records from being released to the state for use at trial. The appellate court stopped the trial from happening but held onto the appeal for two years, putting a wrench in the prosecutor’s plan to take it to trial within one year as Criminal Rule 4 spells out. Exceptions are if the defendant somehow caused the delay, or if an “emergency” or “court congestion” occurred. Those terms are being dissected and examined, as well as whether the one-year clock could have been stopped or should get some blanket rule as it relates to interlocutory appeals. The state says it’s not at fault for the delay. So does the defendant.

Toward the end of the arguments, Justice Ted Boehm made an interesting observation when the deputy attorney general was at the podium. He pointed out that the state could have asked for an expedited appeal from the COA, even though interlocutory appeals are already supposed to get that rushed attention. He then pressed the state for not directly calling the appellate court or clerk’s office to bring the timetable and Criminal Rule 4 running clock to the court’s attention. The deputy attorney general said the appellate court knew nothing was happening because of the stay and should have known the Criminal Rule 4 timetable based on the fact that this was an interlocutory appeal

Justice Boehm’s response: “You give us too much credit. You have to spell things out for us. We have a lot of paper to read up here.”

Interesting point, Your Honor. Particularly at a time when there’s discussion about new judges being added to the state’s intermediate appellate court. We’ve seen footnotes in some appellate rulings during the past year that highlight a handful of cases being delayed, specifically between the clerk’s office transmitting a case to the court. Later this month, lawmakers will be discussing whether a new panel should be added to the COA. This case aside, those discussions should be interesting.
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