COA affirms denial of dismissal of drug-dealing charges

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The Indiana Court of Appeals declined Wednesday to accept a formerly incarcerated man’s argument that a trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion to dismiss charges against him under the speedy-trial rule.

In Jaron Leekingdus Ratliff v. State of Indiana, 18A-CR-02387, police arrested and charged Jaron Ratliff with two counts of Class A felony dealing in cocaine after he allegedly sold the drug to confidential informants.

Ratliff and his counsel never showed up to either of his pretrial hearings, and a warrant was eventually issued for Ratliff’s arrest. When Ratliff again failed to show at his scheduled trial date, a third party informed the court that Ratliff was in jail and that he was “going to be there for a while.”

The jury trial was canceled, and a status conference was rescheduled four years later. Just two days before his pretrial conference, Ratliff filed a motion for discharge pursuant to Indiana Criminal Rule 4(C), but the trial court denied his motion.

An Indiana Court of Appeals panel accepted interlocutory review of the case and affirmed the trial court’s decision, finding no abuse of discretion in its denial of Ratliff’s motion for discharge pursuant to C.R. 4(C). Specifically, it concluded Ratliff’s failure to communicate in writing with the trial court regarding his incarceration was primarily responsible for the delay in his prosecution.

Relying on the circumstances in Allen v. State, 51 N.E.3d 1202 (Ind. 2016), Ratliff asserted that the trial court in his own case similarly abused its discretion when it denied Ratliff’s motion for discharge because the state and the trial court did not bring him to trial within a “reasonable time.”

The appellate panel disagreed, finding Allen distinguishable from the facts in Ratliff’s case because the trial court in Allen received notice from Allen that he was incarcerated. Differently, Ratliff did not give any form of written notice to the trial court.

“Instead, the facts in Werner v. State, 818 N.E.2d 26 (Ind. Ct. App. 2004), on which the trial court relied, are analogous to Ratliff’s circumstances,” Judge Melissa May wrote for the panel, referring back to the third party’s announcement that Ratliff was in jail at the time of his scheduled trial date.

“Ratliff did not communicate with the trial court to indicate his whereabouts until approximately four years after that statement. Guided by the holding in Werner, we conclude the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Ratliff’s motion to discharge pursuant to C.R. 4(C),” May wrote.

“Additionally, since the delay was attributable to Ratliff’s actions and he has not demonstrated prejudice from the delay, the trial court’s decision did not violate his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial,” the panel concluded.

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