Delay in search of cellphones gets marijuana charges tossed

Prosecutors holding cellphones for months and then having to ask for a continuance so they could finally search the evidence raised the ire of the Indiana Court of Appeals, which subsequently tossed the charges against two defendants whose trials were delayed more than a year.

Joseph Hoskins and Daniel McLayea were both arrested and charged with dealing and possession of marijuana. Each filed a motion for discharge because their trials were delayed beyond a year from the dates they were charged in violation of Indiana Criminal Rule 4(C). Their individual motions were denied and they filed their appeals.

The defendants’ cases were prosecuted separately in two Marion Superior Courts but the Court of Appeals consolidated them for this appeal.

In each of the cases, both the defendants and state asked for continuances. However, the state requests for continuances resulted in longer delays than the defendants’ requests. Also, in each case, the state had to ask for a continuance so it could search the cell phones of the accused.

When Hoskins was arrested in June 2015, law enforcement seized three cell phones but the state did not investigate their contents. After the defendant requested his phones be returned because the state had done nothing with the items, the prosecutors then decided to search the phones. As a result, the state had to request a continuance.

“(T)he State had these cell phones in its possession from the time of Hoskins’ arrest in June 2015 until Hoskins requested their return in February 2016,” Judge John Baker wrote for the court. “That the State waited eight months to search the phones is certainly not Hoskins’ fault, and the delay caused by the State’s extraordinarily belated search of evidence is in no way chargeable to Hoskins.”

Similarly, law enforcement seized three cell phones when McLayea was arrested. In asking for a third continuance, the State said it needed time to search the cell phones.

As the deputy prosecutor trial told the court: “Generally so long as my case isn’t really crappy, I don’t get our phone analyzed, because our forensic unit is pretty overcrowded from homicide, rape cases, and things like that.”

Barker wrote, “As with Hoskins, in our view it would be unfair to charge McLayea with the delay in the trial that resulted from the way in which the State conducted its case.”

The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded in Joseph K. Hoskins and Daniel McLayea v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1612-CR-2860.

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