COA reverses firearm conviction after erroneous continuance

An Evansville firearm conviction against a convicted felon must be reversed after the Indiana Court of Appeals found a trial court erred in granting the state’s request for a continuance six days before trial.

In Jimmy Joe Small v. State of Indiana, 18A-CR-773, several Evansville Police Department officers arrested Jimmy Joe Small after a “knock and talk” at his hotel room revealed drug paraphernalia, a firearm and a magazine for the gun. The officers were dispatched to Small’s hotel room after receiving a tip that he was in possession of a firearm.

During an ensuing pretrial hearing, Small moved for a speedy trial pursuant to Criminal Rule 4, which the Vanderburgh Circuit Court granted. However, six days before the trial was set to begin, the state moved for a continuance under Criminal Rule 4(D), arguing it could not proceed due to necessary forensic testing that had not been completed.

The state claimed in its motion that court staff “inexplicably” never received the judge’s order for Small’s DNA standards, which were necessary to conduct testing of DNA swabbed from the firearm. A magistrate later attributed the oversight to “a glitch in the Odyssey system,” prompting the court to grant the continuance over Small’s objection.

Small was subsequently found guilty of knowingly or intentionally possessing a firearm after a jury heard inconclusive DNA evidence, and he admitted to being a violent felon. But the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed his Level 4 felony conviction on Tuesday after finding the state failed to demonstrate its reasonable efforts to procure evidence.  

“Here, the trial court orally granted the State’s request for Small’s DNA standards on October 24,” Judge Margret Robb wrote for the unanimous court. “The State took no further action to collect Small’s DNA standards until December 1, when it realized it had not received the trial court’s written order because of a ‘glitch in the Odyssey system.’”

“…Although the ‘glitch in the Odyssey system,’ … may have justified a modest delay, the State took thirty-eight days to notice this rather glaring error, despite its knowledge of Small’s speedy trial date and its presence in court when its motion for a continuance was orally granted,” Robb said.

The court further found no evidence of the state requesting an expedited testing process in light of Small’s motion for a speedy trial, signaling “inattentiveness, rather than prudence….”  Thus, the case was remanded to be discharged in accordance with the appellate court’s opinion.

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