Split COA reverses denial of motion for discharge

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A trial court should’ve granted a man’s motion for discharge after his drug-related trial was continued multiple times, a split Court of Appeals of Indiana ruled in a reversal.

In March 2018, Dallas Dale Hoback was charged with Level 6 felony possession of methamphetamine, Level 6 felony possession of a narcotic drug and Class C misdemeanor possession of paraphernalia.

At a January 2019 status conference, Hoback informed the court that plea negotiations were happening but also asked for a trial date. The Clark Circuit Court scheduled a jury trial for April 2019.

A plea offer was tendered at a pretrial conference in January 2019. That April, the chronological case summary noted a new status conference date of June 5, and it noted that the jury trial had been canceled, although it did not disclose why or on whose motion.

The case was continued multiple times due to the nonappearance of defense counsel and Hoback’s request for new dates. The plea hearing was continued several times, as well, until Hoback eventually withdrew from the plea in October 2020.

After a series of events including defense continuances, the entry of another plea agreement and another withdrawal of the plea, court congestion findings and public health emergency orders due to COVID-19, the jury trial was set for July 2022.

The state then filed two motions for continuance due to the unavailability of an essential witness. The motions were granted by the trial court, and Hoback didn’t object.

The trial was rescheduled for August 2022, and that same month Hoback moved for discharge. The trial court denied his motion.

The jury then found Hoback guilty as charged, and the trial court sentenced him to an aggregate of 692 days.

On appeal, the appellate court addressed whether the trial court erred when it denied Hoback’s Criminal Rule 4(C) motion for discharge.

“Given the deficient trial court record and the State’s failure to request that the trial court make adequate docket entries, we cannot attribute any of the delays during the relevant one-year time period to Hoback,” Judge L. Mark Baily wrote. “… That is, there is no evidence that the one-year time limit imposed by Criminal Rule 4(C) was extended by Hoback’s requests or other actions, yet the State failed to bring Hoback to trial within that one year period. Therefore, the trial court erred when it denied Hoback’s Rule 4(C) motion for discharge.”

Judge Melissa May concurred in the opinion, but Judge Paul Felix penned an eight-page dissent.

Felix dissented for two reasons.

“Primarily, I believe Hoback acquiesced in, if not requested, the delay that causes my colleagues to find a violation of Indiana Criminal Rule 4(C),” he wrote. “… I also disagree with my colleagues regarding whether Hoback waived this issue for appeal. Hoback’s failure to comply with Indiana Appellate Rule 46 substantially impedes review of his C.R. 4(C) claim.

“… In addition to Hoback’s multiple failures to comply with Appellate Rule 46 in his opening brief, Hoback also failed to provide cogent argument on multiple issues in his reply brief, including whether the delay until June 5, 2019, was attributable to the State,” the dissent continued. “Hoback’s significant noncompliance with Appellate Rule 46, especially Appellate Rule 46(A)(8)(a), substantially impedes a review of his C.R. 4(C) claim.”

As for the merits of Hoback’s appeal, Felix looked to Young v. State, 765 N.E.2d 673 (Ind. Ct. App. 2002).

“Here … we have one minute entry sheet signed by both counsel and at least three docket entries from the court explaining, albeit not in great detail, why the trial was cancelled and a status conference reset,” Felix wrote. “While I would strongly prefer for the trial court here to have at least provided more detail than ‘Other’ in its CCS entry, the record is sufficient to satisfy the test set forth in Young.”

Felix also relied on Cook v. State, 810 N.E.2d 1064 (Ind. 2004), which the majority addressed in a footnote.

“In Cook, the Court reasserted that its holding did not affect ‘the proposition that a defendant’s agreement to a continuance sought by the State is not chargeable to the defendant and does not extend the time period of Crim. R. 4(C),’” the majority wrote, responding to Felix. “Due to the inadequacy of the trial court’s record, we cannot confidently say Hoback caused the cancellation of the first trial date.”

The case is Dallas Dale Hoback v. State of Indiana, 23A-CR-411.

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