IN Supreme Court: Defendant denied fair proceeding, ordered new trial in child molestation case

A man convicted of child molestation has secured a new trial after the Indiana Supreme Court concluded he was wrongly denied a continuance to review new evidence submitted one day before trial.

In the case of Juventino V. Ramirez v. State of Indiana, 21S-CR-373,  Juventino Ramirez was convicted of Level 4 felony child molestation against his minor stepdaughter. Over the next eight months, Ramirez’s attorney and the Allen County Prosecutor’s Office litigated an array of discovery issues, including the defense’s repeated, unsuccessful requests for a copy of the victim’s forensic interview.

In a letter imposing discovery conditions provided by the prosecutor, Ramirez was informed that “any police reports, DVDs, CDs, witness lists, medical reports, etcetera, may not be copied, reproduced, nor provided to anyone, including the defendant.”

Defense counsel rejected those conditions and responded that it would “proceed with discovery as set forth under applicable case law and rules of trial procedure.” The prosecutor subsequently declined to provide a copy of the victim’s interview, relying on Allen County Local Criminal Rule 13.

During a motion to compel hearing prompted by the defense counsel, who argued it was “extremely burdensome” to continually return to the prosecutor’s office to review the interview, Allen Superior Court Judge Frances Gull ruled that Ramirez was not entitled to a copy and issued a protective order prohibiting him from obtaining one.

The day before Ramirez’s jury trial, the prosecutor delved “into the facts of the case” with the victim and her mother for the first time. After that conversation, the prosecutor sent defense counsel an email detailing the discussions that included several new allegations.

Ramirez’s counsel, within four hours of receiving the new information, filed a motion requesting in part that the court grant a continuance because the new allegations materially changed his theory of defense and counsel needed time to complete additional discovery. That request was denied on the basis of untimeliness.

During the two-day trial that followed, Ramirez’s counsel twice renewed its request for a continuance with no success. The jury ultimately found Ramirez guilty and the court sentenced him to six years behind bars. The Court of Appeals of Indiana affirmed in a 39-page memorandum decision.

A unanimous Indiana Supreme Court reversed that ruling on April 27 and remanded for a new trial, holding that Ramirez was denied a fair proceeding.

“The Local Rule is void because it imposes requirements not found in our trial rules for obtaining otherwise discoverable evidence,” Chief Justice Loretta Rush wrote for the high court. “And the record is devoid of any specific reason to support the court’s issuance of a protective order for the video. Although we ultimately find that neither basis requires reversal, we conclude that the trial court’s denial of Ramirez’s motion for continuance does.

“The court abused its discretion because there is no evidence it engaged in the appropriate balancing of interests when it denied the (continuance) request, and Ramirez made specific showings as to why additional time was necessary and how it would have benefitted the defense,” Rush continued.

Justices further noted that there was no evidence that a continuance would have adversely impacted the state’s interests and that no evidence was present to show delaying trial would have burdened the court.

The high court therefore concluded that similar to Vaughn v. State, 590 N.E.2d 134, 135– 36 (Ind. 1992) and Flowers v. State, 654 N.E.2d 1124, 1125 (Ind. 1995), Ramirez established prejudice from the court’s denial of his motion for continuance.

“Simply put, it is unrealistic to expect the defense, within a few hours, to investigate the new allegations, evaluate the evidence, adapt trial strategy, and complete final preparations,” Rush wrote.

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