If there is one thing for sure in the legal world, the wheels of justice turn at a very slow rate! Waiting for a decision six months after the initial hearing date is not uncommon. After all, most courts carry a heavy caseload with a copious amount of defendants filing pre-trial motions.
However, even with a heavy caseload, a court is still required to issue decisions in a reasonable amount of time. How long does a court have to issue a decision was at issue in State v. Reppucci, 2017-Ohio-1313.
In Reppucci, Reppucci filed a motion to suppress relating from an OVI stop. The prosecutor requested a pretrial prior to the hearing on the motion to suppress. The trial court denied the prosecutor’s request by stating “the motion to suppress only raised two issues, reasonable suspicion for the initial detention and probable cause for the OVI arrest. The court does not need to conduct a pretrial for a motion containing such limited issues.”
On June 27, 2014, the trial court held a hearing on the motion to suppress. On December 14, 2015, the court issued its decision denying the motion to suppress. Soon after, Reppucci moved to dismiss the case based on a violation his speedy trial rights. Specifically, Reppucci argued that the motion to suppress remained pending for 535 days after the hearing on the motion.
The trial court denied the motion to dismiss finding the delay was “not unreasonable under all the circumstances considering the nature of the issues raised in the motion and the voluminous caseload handled in this single-judge municipal court.”
Reppucci appealed after his jury trial.
Ohio Revised Code 2945.71 to 2945.73 imposes a mandatory duty on the prosecution and the trial court to bring a defendant to trial in a timely fashion. State v. Martin, 56 Ohio St.2d 289. R.C. 2945.71 requires that a defendant shall be brought to trial within 90 days of the person’s arrest or the service of summons for a first degree misdemeanor. R.C. 2945.72 allows this time period to be extended by any period of delay necessitated by a defendant’s motion. R.C. 2945.73 states, “Upon a motion made at or prior to the commencement of trial, a person charged with an offense shall be discharged if he is not brought to trial within the time required by sections 2945.71 and 2945.72 of the Revised Code.”
A defense motion tolls speedy-trial time for a reasonable period to allow the State to respond and the court to rule on the motion. State v. Sanchez, 2006-Ohio-4478. This does not imply that a trial court has unbridled discretion in taking time to rule on a defense motion. Id. Rather, a trial judge is required to rule on motions “in as expeditious a manner as possible.” Id.
The appellate court found, by the trial court’s own assessment, Reppucci’s motion was not complex either factually or legally. Prior to the hearing, the trial court noted that it was faced with only two limited issues.
The entry denying the motion to dismiss refers vaguely to “the nature of the issues raised in the motion to suppress,” but it does not specifically discuss those issues. Rather the focus of the denial was the size of the trial court’s docket. The appellate court noted that it was not unsympathetic to the time demands on trial court judges, but that alone cannot justify a delay of over 17 months in ruling on a simple suppression motion.
Based on the above, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s decision denying Reppucci’s motion to dismiss and ordered the trial court to discharge Reppucci.