October 17, 2012
Speedy Trial

by Justice Paul E. Pfeifer

The guarantee of a speedy trial, enshrined in both the United States and Ohio Constitutions, is a fundamental right of a criminal defendant. Because the Constitution doesn’t define “speedy,” states have the authority to prescribe reasonable periods in which a trial must be held.

Thus the Ohio legislature passed a law that designates specific time requirements for the state to bring an accused to trial. According to this law, a defendant charged with a felony “shall be brought to trial within” 270 days after the arrest. For purposes of calculating speedy-trial time, “each day during which the accused is held in jail in lieu of bail ... shall be counted as three days.” Thus, a jailed defendant must be tried within 90 days.

All of this was relevant in a case that we reviewed here – at the Ohio Supreme Court – involving two men: Keith Ramey and Jonathan Keeton.

On October 7, 2009, Ramey and Keeton were arrested for breaking and entering into Nasty N8s, a tattoo parlor, the previous night. They were also accused of using a pistol to beat and rob a man they encountered on the street shortly after midnight.

A joint indictment handed down against Ramey and Keeton contained two counts of aggravated robbery, two counts of felonious assault, and one count of breaking and entering. The first two counts included firearms specifications.  After both entered not-guilty pleas, Keeton posted bond and was released from jail. But Ramey was unable to post bond and remained in jail pending trial.

On December 9, 2009, during a pretrial hearing, each man’s lawyer said they intended to file motions to suppress evidence and sever the trials. The court scheduled a hearing on the motions for January 5, 2010, and indicated that it anticipated “assigning the matter for jury trial shortly thereafter.”

The next day, Keeton filed a motion to suppress certain physical evidence and statements he’d made when he was arrested. On December 21, the state filed a second, related indictment that charged both men with having a weapon under disability – meaning that because of a prior criminal charge, they weren’t allowed to have guns.

On December 29, Keeton filed yet another motion that challenged his identification through law enforcement’s use of a photo array. Throughout all of this, Ramey did not file any pretrial motions.

At the scheduled hearing on the motions, Keeton abandoned portions of his motions and the court denied what remained. At that time, both men’s lawyers indicated their availability for trial to commence on February 1, 2010. The court eventually moved the date of the trial one day later because the courtroom was unavailable on February first.

The dates are important because of the speedy trial element. On February 1, Ramey moved to dismiss both indictments against him on the ground that the state failed to prosecute him within 90 days.

The court denied the motion. 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. “Otherwise,” the court of appeals said, the trial court “was well within its ability to set a trial date within what would have been the 90 days.”

After a trial, the jury returned guilty verdicts against Ramey on all counts except the felonious assault and one count of breaking and entering. Ramey was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment.

The court of appeals affirmed Ramey’s convictions of aggravated robbery and felonious assault from the first indictment, but reversed and vacated his conviction of having a weapon under disability, which was charged in the second indictment. The court of appeals concluded that Ramey had been timely tried on the first indictment, but not on the second.

Essentially the court of appeals determined that Keeton’s first suppression hearing stopped the clock on the speedy trial until that matter was resolved. So Ramey was tried timely on the first indictment.

As to the second indictment, the court of appeals concluded that Keeton’s suppression motion did not stop Ramey’s speedy-trial clock because Keeton filed that motion before the second indictment was handed down. Thus, the court of appeals concluded that the state failed to bring Ramey to trial on the charge in the second indictment within the required time.

When the case came before us, we had to answer this question: Does the filing of a motion to suppress evidence by a co-defendant, by itself, automatically stop the clock ticking on the other co-defendant’s speedy trial time?

Ramey, who was jailed pending trial, was not tried within 90 days of his arrest. Instead, his trial commenced 118 days later. The state argued that Ramey’s speedy-trial time was extended because Ramey’s lawyer indicated at a pretrial conference that he would file motions to suppress evidence and to sever Ramey from Keeton as a co-defendant, and then failed to object to the trial date. We disagreed.

Previous cases have established that a criminal defendant may waive speedy trial rights. But to be effective, the waiver of those rights must be expressed in writing or be made in open court on the record.

There is no definitive evidence of a waiver in this case. The state essentially asked us to find that Ramey and his lawyer implied that they waived his right to a speedy trial. But Ramey did not waive that right.

There are certain exceptions that can extend the time within which a defendant must be brought to trial. In fact, there is an exhaustive list of events and circumstances that can extend the time, but that list doesn’t include the filing of pretrial motions by a co-defendant.

We therefore concluded – by a seven-to-zero vote – that a co-defendant’s filing of pretrial motions does not automatically extend the time in which a defendant must be brought to trial. We sent the case back to the court of appeals to determine whether the setting of the trial date beyond the statutory time period was reasonable for any of the other permissible circumstances.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The case referred to is State v. Ramey, 132 Ohio St.3d 309, 2012-Ohio-2904. Case No. 2011-0597. Decided June 28, 2012. Majority opinion written by Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor.