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Toxicology lab witness’s failure to appear dooms drunken-driving conviction

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A Tennessee man’s drunken-driving conviction in Shelby Superior Court was tossed because his trial took place more than a year after his arrest, largely due to a toxicology lab worker’s failure to appear for scheduled depositions, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Monday.

Shelbyville police arrested Halden Martin in the early morning of July 17, 2010, on Interstate 74 as he crossed over the center line several times. Martin told police he had been drinking at Indiana Grand Casino for several hours.

Martin failed field sobriety tests but refused to submit to a breath test. He was arrested and charged with Class A misdemeanor operating a vehicle while intoxicated. A search warrant was obtained for a blood test, but court documents show the State Department of Toxicology didn’t return blood-test results for almost eight months.

After multiple continuances attributable to both side, Martin moved in March 2012 to dismiss pursuant to Indiana Criminal Rule 4(C) because 608 days had passed. The trial court denied the motion, and at a bench trial in June 2012 convicted Martin and sentenced him to a year in prison with all but 30 days suspended to probation.

But Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote for the court in Halden Martin v. State of Indiana, 73A01-1207-CR-300, that the key delays came when a state witness from the toxicology department failed to show for scheduled depositions.

“What this boils down to is what party should bear the responsibility of a State’s witness not showing up to two scheduled depositions at which the witness was subpoenaed both times. Martin says the State Department of Toxicology told him that Anderson was ‘unavailable’ both times, and the State does not offer a contrary explanation on appeal,” Vaidik wrote.

“We find that the balance tips in favor of Martin and therefore conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in charging the delay to him,” Vaidik wrote, recalculating the delay to 476 days. “Because the days that count toward the Rule 4(C) period exceed 365, the trial court should have granted Martin’s motion for discharge. We therefore reverse the trial court and remand for vacation of his conviction.”

 

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