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Pretrial Motion by One Defendant in Criminal Case Does Not Automatically ‘Toll’ Speedy-Trial Time of Co-Defendant

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2011-0597. State v. Ramey, Slip Opinion No. 2012-Ohio-2904.
Clark App. No. 10 CA 19, 2011-Ohio-1288.  Judgment reversed and cause remanded.
O’Connor, C.J., and Pfeifer, Lundberg Stratton, O’Donnell, Lanzinger, Cupp, and McGee Brown, JJ., concur.
Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2012/2012-Ohio-2904.pdf

Video clip View oral argument video of this case.

(June 28, 2012) The Supreme Court of Ohio ruled today that when one of two co-defendants in a criminal case enters a pretrial motion to suppress evidence, that action does not automatically toll (stop the running of) the “speedy trial” time limit within which the state must bring the other co-defendant to trial.

The court’s 7-0 decision, authored by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, reversed a ruling by the Second District Court of Appeals and remanded the case to that court to determine whether the trial court’s setting of the trial date beyond the statutory time limit was reasonable based on the case record.

The case involved interpretation of R.C. 2945.72, a state law that requires, with certain exceptions, that criminal defendants be brought to trial within 270 days after the date of their arrest. The law specifies that when a defendant remains in jail pending trial, each day of incarceration counts as three days toward the speedy-trial deadline, effectively setting a 90-day time limit for the state and trial courts to bring such defendants to trial.  The law also sets forth a list of events that “toll” or temporarily stop the running of a defendant’s speedy-trial time. Among those tolling events is the filing of a pretrial motion by the defendant. The filing of a pretrial motion by a codefendant is not listed as an event that automatically tolls a defendant’s time.

Keith Ramey and Jonathan Keeton of Springfield were arrested on October 7, 2009, for breaking and entering into a tattoo parlor the previous evening.  They were also accused of using a pistol to rob and assault a man they encountered on the street early on the morning of October 7.  A joint indictment handed down by a Clark County grand jury six days later charged both defendants with two counts of aggravated robbery and felonious assault with firearm specifications, and one count of breaking and entering. 

After both men entered not-guilty pleas, Keeton posted bond and was released from jail. Ramey was unable to post bond and so remained in jail pending trial.

On December 9, 2009, the court held a pretrial hearing during which counsel for both defendants represented that they intended to file motions to suppress and sever the trials. The following day, Keeton filed a motion to suppress physical evidence seized from his father’s house and statements he had made when he was arrested.  On December 21, 2009, the state filed a second, related indictment that charged the two with having a weapon under disability. On December 29, 2009, Keeton filed a supplemental motion that challenged his identification through law enforcement’s use of a photo array. Ramey did not file any pretrial motions.

On January 5, 2010, the court held a hearing on Keeton’s motions and denied all claims that Keeton had not already withdrawn. The next day the trial court issued a scheduling order that set a deadline for the prosecutor to extend a plea offer to Ramey and Keeton and for Ramey and Keeton to accept or reject the offer. That entry also stated, “In the event that the defendants do not accept said plea offers, Counsel have indicated their respective availability for trial ... on February 1, 2010.”  The court later continued the trial one additional day because the courtroom was unavailable on February 1, 2010.

On February 1, 2010, Ramey moved to dismiss all charges pending against him on the ground that the state had failed to prosecute him within 90 days after his arrest, as mandated by the speedy-trial statute. At a status conference that same day, the court denied Ramey’s motion “[b]ecause of (Keeton’s) motions and the agreed hearing dates by counsel.” The court also explained that, in its view, the motion to dismiss did not have merit because the parties had agreed to set certain dates to reconsider the status of the case and, “otherwise, the Court was well within its ability to set a trial date within what would have been the 90 days under R.C. 2945.71.” The trial court thereafter issued a written decision that denied Ramey’s motion on the basis that the matter had been continued by agreement of the parties.

Ramey was tried and found guilty on two counts of aggravated robbery with firearm specifications, one count of felonious assault and one count of having a weapon under disability. He was sentenced to an aggregate term of 11 years in prison.

Ramey appealed the trial court’s denial of his motion to dismiss on speedy-trial grounds. On review, the Second District Court of Appeals affirmed Ramey’s convictions for aggravated robbery and assault, but vacated his conviction for having a weapon while under disability. The court of appeals held that Keeton’s original motion to suppress evidence had stopped the running of Ramey’s speedy-trial time on the charges in the first indictment from December 10, 2009 through January 5, 2010, and when those days were subtracted from the total days Ramey had been in jail, his trial had begun within 90 countable days after his arrest.  

Because Keeton’s December 10 motion to suppress was filed before the second indictment charging the weapons offense, the Second District found that the time required to resolve that motion should not be subtracted from Ramey’s speedy-trial time on the weapons count.  While it did toll the days between the filing and disposition of Keeton’s second motion to suppress against Ramey’s speedy trial time,  the court found that even with those days subtracted, the state had not brought Ramey to trial on the weapons charge within 90 countable days after his arrest.

Ramey sought Supreme Court review of the Second District’s ruling upholding his aggravated robbery and assault convictions, asserting that the state’s deadline for bringing him to trial on those charges should not have been automatically tolled based on Keeton’s pretrial motions.

In today’s unanimous decision, Chief Justice O’Connor began by noting that while a defendant may waive his or her speedy trial rights, to be effective such a waiver must either be expressed in writing or made orally in open court on the record.  In this case, she wrote, “(T)here is no definitive evidence of waiver. Neither Ramey nor his trial counsel executed a written waiver of speedy trial rights or expressly waived his rights in open court on the record.  Instead, the state essentially asks us to find that Ramey and his counsel impliedly waived Ramey’s right to a speedy trial.  To do so would require us to ignore the unequivocal nature of our holding in (State v.) King (1994). Ramey had not waived his right to a speedy trial when he filed his motion to dismiss. Therefore, we must now determine whether the time in which Ramey had to be brought to trial was tolled.”

“R.C. 2945.72 contains an exhaustive list of events and circumstances that extend the time within which a defendant must be brought to trial.  In addition to meticulously delineating the tolling events, the General Assembly jealously guarded its judgment as to the reasonableness of delay by providing that time in which to bring an accused to trial ‘may be extended only by’ the events enumerated in R.C. 2945.72(A) through (I).”

“R.C. 2945.72 does not include the filing of pretrial motions by a co-defendant as an event that automatically extends a defendant’s speedy-trial time. In construing a statute, we may not add or delete words. ... We are, therefore, compelled to conclude that a co-defendant’s filing of pretrial motions does not automatically toll the time in which a defendant must be brought to trial.” 

“R.C. 2945.72(H) permits the speedy-trial clock to be tolled for the ‘period of any continuance granted on the accused’s own motion, and the period of any reasonable continuance granted other than upon the accused’s own motion.’ (Emphasis added). When a trial court exercises its discretion to continue the period for trial beyond the statutory limit, the continuance is entered under the second clause of subsection (H) and, therefore, the period of continuance must be reasonable.”

“In this case, Ramey’s counsel ... merely acquiesced in the trial date.  Accordingly, the trial court had discretion to extend the trial date beyond the statutory time limit, if the continuance was reasonable as required by the second clause of subsection (H). ... Here, the trial court ... acted upon the mistaken belief that the time for trial was automatically extended by both Keeton’s filing of pretrial motions to suppress and Ramey’s counsel’s acquiescence in the trial date. In doing so, like the trial court in (State v.) Davis (1976), it failed to recognize that the extension was properly granted only under the second clause of R.C. 2945.72(H).”

“On several occasions, we have found it necessary to address trial courts’ imperfect handling of continuances under R.C. 2945.72(H), such as occurred here. ... We have recognized that an appellate court may affirm a conviction challenged on speedy-trial grounds even if the trial court did not expressly enumerate any reasons justifying the delay when the reasonableness of the continuance is otherwise affirmatively demonstrated by the record. ... Because the court of appeals failed to undertake the requisite inquiry, we must remand this case to the court of appeals to determine whether the setting of the trial date beyond the statutory time period was reasonable, as required by R.C. 2945.72(H).  In doing so, we reaffirm the principle of law that the determination of reasonableness must be made on the existing record.”

Stephen P. Hardwick, 614.466.5394, for Keith Ramey.

Andrew R. Picek, 937.521.1770, for the Clark County prosecutor’s office.