COA orders defendant’s discharge in OVI case after 13-month delay in blood test results

IL file photo

The state’s 13-month delay in providing blood test results violated a man’s right to a speedy trial, the Court of Appeals of Indiana ruled in a Wednesday reversal.

The appellate court remanded the case to the Marion Superior Court to discharge Christopher Wellman under Indiana Criminal Rule 4(C).

According to court records, police arrested Wellman for operating a vehicle while intoxicated on March 4, 2021, and he submitted to a blood draw.

The next day, the state charged Wellman with three alcohol-related driving offenses, including operating a vehicle with an alcohol concentration equivalent of 0.15 grams or more.

The state sent Wellman’s blood samples to a state laboratory for testing.

Over the next 13 months, the state and Wellman engaged in numerous pretrial conferences while awaiting Wellman’s blood test results, with Wellman consistently requesting continuances on that basis.

Neither party ever requested a trial date.

By the December 2021 pretrial conference, the state had tendered a plea offer, but Wellman’s blood test results were still not available.

Finally, on April 5, 2022, Wellman moved for discharge 396 days after he was charged. He moved for discharge under Criminal Rule 4(C), asserting that the state failed to bring him to trial within one year.

The trial court denied Wellman discharge, attributing the 13-month delay to his “trial strategy” of waiting for the test results rather than forcing the state to proceed to trial without them.

The court concluded the state’s one-year countdown under Criminal Rule 4(C) was paused on the date of Wellman’s initial hearing. Wellman appealed.

The appellate court disagreed with the trial court’s ruling and reversed, remanding the case with instructions for the court to grant Wellman’s motion for discharge.

Writing for the court, Judge Leanna Weissmann said Criminal Rule 4(C) puts a duty on the state to bring a defendant to trial within a year of being charged or arrested, but it does allow for extensions. Weissmann acknowledged that Wellman’s request for continuances pushed his case past the rule’s one-year deadline.

But Wellman claimed the state’s failure to produce blood test results, not his actions, caused the delay.

Weismann wrote that the Indiana Supreme Court recognizes a “discovery exception,” where the continuance is caused by the state’s delay in providing discovery.

The discovery exception derives from Biggs v. State, 546 N.E.2d 1271 (Ind. Ct. App. 1989), Weissmann wrote, in which two defendants requested a continuance due to the state’s failure to procure its out-of-state confidential informant for scheduled depositions. The appellate court has since applied Biggs and the discovery exception in a several cases in which a defendant requested a continuance due to the state’s failure to provide test results from a state laboratory.

In the instant case, Weismann noted the state seemingly insisted that the discovery exception only applies when the state is negligent in its failure to comply with discovery.

The appellate court rejected that argument.

“A defendant should not be forced to either waive the right to a speedy trial or proceed to trial unprepared,” she wrote.

The COA further found that the state also failed to use Criminal Rule 4(D), which allows the state to file a continuance if a reasonable effort is made to procure evidence within 90 days.

“Had the State used this tool, the trial court could have determined whether the State engaged in ‘reasonable efforts’ to obtain Wellman’s blood test results,” Weissmann wrote. “Although the record does not reveal the reason behind the 13-month delay in obtaining the blood test results, Wellman’s request for discharge finally spurred action from the State.”

Judges L. Mark Bailey and Elaine Brown concurred.

The case is Christopher G. Wellman v. State of Indiana, 22A-CR-1673.

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