Tuesday, June 30, 2009
C.A.: Distance Between Courthouses Good Cause for Trial Delay
By Sherri M. Okamoto, Staff Writer
The Fourth District Court of Appeal yesterday held that the inability of parties and counsel to travel from the criminal calendar court in Riverside to an available courtroom 76 miles away before it closed for the day on the last statutory day for trial constituted good cause for a continuance.
Div. One reinstated the information charging Firme Hajjaj with one felony count of transporting methamphetamine for sale which Riverside Superior Court Judge Thomas H. Cahraman had dismissed based on the lack of a speedy trial.
Hajjaj was out of custody on bail pending commencement of trial, which was trailed several times by the Riverside Superior Court’s master calendar department due to “courtroom unavailability.”
Ready for Trial
According to court records, both parties indicated that they were ready for trial on July 28, 2008—and defense counsel objected to any further delay.
Cahraman noted that it was the last day of the statutory speedy trial period, but informed the parties, “I seem to be out of courtrooms.”
At around 4:15 p.m., Cahraman informed the parties that a courtroom had just become available in Indio, but as he estimated it would take over an hour and 20 minutes for the parties and counsel to travel there from the Riverside Hall of Justice, determined it would be futile to send the matter to Indio for trial.
The prosecutor suggested that another deputy district attorney could appear at the Indio courtroom “within the next five minutes” and be ready to proceed, but Cahraman replied that without the defendant, defense counsel or an empaneled jury, having a prosecutor present in Indio would not be “the start of a trial under the law.”
Although Cahraman noted there would be “an Indio court open tomorrow” and “[m]any courts” would become available the following Monday, he declined to find good cause for the prosecutor’s request for a continuance and later granted Hajjaj’s dismissal motion.
Writing for the appellate court, Justice Gilbert Nares explained that having a deputy district attorney in Indio, without the presence of Hajjaj and his counsel of record, would not satisfy the requirements for bringing a case to trial, but hypothesized that Hajjaj’s case could have been brought to trial within the statutory time period if a courtroom within the Riverside Hall of Justice had been available.
The trial court “overlooked the fact that in a large and populous county like the County of Riverside, which is served by one superior court consisting of a central courthouse (the Riverside Hall of Justice) and various outlying branch facilities (such as the Indio court), the administration of justice and the efficient utilization of limited judicial resources may require the parties to a criminal proceeding to travel to a distant court facility,” Nares wrote.
As Hajjaj was not in custody, Nares said he would not suffer any prejudice from a one-day delay in the commencement of the trial and so the trial court had abused its discretion in declining to find the physical remoteness of an available court room was good cause for a continuance.
Presiding Justice Judith McConnell and Justice Patricia D. Benke joined Nares in his decision.
The case is People v. Hajjaj, 09 S.O.S. 3980.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company