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Criminal: A Stay Pending Interlocutory Appeal Tolls One-Year Clock To Try Defendant
Posted in Litigation

Today, the Indiana Supreme Court held that Criminal Rule 4(C)’s one-year period for bringing a defendant to trial is tolled when trial court proceedings are stayed pending an interlocutory appeal by the State.

In Pelley v. State, the defendant Robert Jeffrey Pelley was arrested in August 2002 and charged with murdering his father, stepmother, and two stepsisters.  He was not tried until July 2006.  In the intervening years, there was one delay to which Pelley agreed (which tolls the one-year clock) and an interlocutory appeal by the State over a discovery dispute.  That discovery dispute, addressing the State’s subpoena to a center that had provided counseling to Pelley’s family and the center’s motion to quash, was resolved by the Indiana Supreme Court on June 14, 2005 (see the Indiana Supreme Court’s opinion in Pelley I here).

On October 28, 2005, after remand, trial was set for July 10, 2006.  Pelley did not object at the time, but filed a motion to dismiss a little more than two months later pursuant to Criminal Rule 4(C).  In his motion, Pelley argued that the new trial date was beyond the one-year period provided by Rule 4(C) and that there was no exception in the rule for interlocutory appeals.  (See the full text of Criminal Rule 4 here).

The trial court denied the motion and Pelley was convicted.  In a 2-1 decision, however, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the convictions.  (See the Court of Appeals' decision here).  That court held discharge was required because Rule 4(C) did not provide an exception for interlocutory appeals and the delay could not be attributed to Pelley.

The Supreme Court disagreed.  The Court, in an opinion by Justice Boehm, reasoned that a trial court “has no ability to speed the appellate process” and that, “[a]s a practical matter, applying the Criminal Rule 4(C) one-year requirement to interlocutory appeals would render and appeal by the State impossible.”  Citing other cases where interlocutory appellate proceedings tolled the time in which a defendant was brought to trial, most notably Martin v. State, 245 Ind. 224 (1963), the Court held that “Rule 4(C)’s one-year limitation does not include the time during which trial proceedings have been stayed pending interlocutory appeal.”

The Court, however, noted that this rule applies “only when trial court proceedings have been stayed.”  Noting the ordinary appellate maxim that an appeal does not, in itself, effect a stay of proceedings, the Court explained that “[t]he trial court and Court of Appeals have discretion to deny a motion to stay if it appears that the State is seeking a stay for improper purposes, or if the appeal presents issues that are not critical to the case.”  The Court also explained that, in the future, the State should “alert the appellate court when it pursues and interlocutory appeal not chargeable to the defendant so the appellate court can be sensitive to the defendant’s interest in avoiding delay.”

After addressing this threshold issue, the Court went on to affirm Pelley's convictions.

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