Divided appeals court reverses habitual offender adjudication

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A split Indiana Court of Appeals has reversed a man’s habitual offender adjudication after finding the state failed to bring him to trial within Indiana Criminal Rule 4(C)’s one-year statutory deadline.

Following a jury trial in 2001, Stanley Watson was sentenced to 80 years for conviction of Class A felony dealing in cocaine, Class A conspiracy to deliver cocaine and for being a habitual offender. Eleven years later, Watson’s petition for post-conviction relief was granted and his habitual offender adjudication vacated when it found two of his three prior felonies could not form the basis for such an adjudication.

When the state later refiled its habitual offender allegation based on additional former convictions, Watson’s case was delayed another six years. During that time, 732 days stemmed from continuance requests by Watson’s original attorney, 477 days were caused by the state’s two continuance motions and the time period between when post-conviction relief was granted and when it requested a habitual offender rehearing. An additional 980 days of delay were attributed to the court, caused by the need to appoint two different special judges during the pendency of the case and 232 days were caused by the withdrawal of Watson’s original attorney and the need for his new attorney to prepare for trial.

Although the trial court and state were jointly responsible for 1,457 days of delay and Watson responsible for 732 days, the jury again adjudicated Watson an habitual offender and re-enhanced his sentence.

On appeal, a divided appellate court concluded the state failed to bring Watson’s case within the Indiana Criminal Rule 4(C)’s one-year deadline, rejecting the state’s assertion that Criminal Rule 4(C) does not apply in Watson’s case.

Our Supreme Court crafted Criminal Rule 4 and its attendant provisions to provide a bright line for enforcing the requirements of a speedy trial under the Federal Constitution’s Sixth Amendment. One of those provisions established a definitive and reliable timeline within which the State must bring a person to court to answer for the charges filed against him,” Judge John Baker wrote for the majority.

“Thus, we conclude that the State did not abide by Criminal Rule 4(C)’s requirements to discharge a defendant if he is not brought to trial within one year. After nearly six and two thirds years of inexplicable delay — with at least one year of delay directly attributable to the State —we find that there was a Criminal Rule 4(C) violation,” the appellate court concluded. “Accordingly, Watson should not have been held to answer to the allegations that he is an habitual offender.”

Dissenting in a separate opinion, Judge James Kirsch noted that the majority panel ignored that the one-year period set forth in the rule runs from the date of the defendant’s arrest or the date that the criminal charge is filed.

“Here, both of such dates had expired more than a decade prior to the Defendant’s filing his petition for post-conviction relief, and the Defendant himself sought multiple continuances of the hearing on his petition which took the proceeding outside of the one-year period,” Kirsch wrote. “… Unlike the trial on a criminal charge in which the evidence is often based on the recollections of witnesses — recollections which fade with time, the evidence in the habitual offender phase is documentary and unaffected by the time lapse.”

Regardless, the majority reversed and remanded with instructions to vacate Watson’s habitual offender status in Stanley Watson v. State of Indiana, 19A-CR-49.

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