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Court Finds Indictment Defective Due to Overbroad Range of Dates

February 1, 2016

In Cole v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals granted the defendant’s special demurrer, and ruled that the range of dates set forth in the indictment was fatally overbroad since the State was able to more narrowly allege when the offenses were said to have been committed.

The defendant was a health care provider and was indicted for Medicaid fraud and theft in relation to an alleged fraudulent billing scheme that spanned a three year period. Specifically, the alleged scheme consisted of obtaining Medicaid reimbursements for services billed for a number of different patients without actual medical services being performed.

The indictment identified these patients by their initials rather than full names and alleged a range of dates which exceeded three years. In a special demurrer filed at her arraignment, the defendant argued that identifying individuals by initials was insufficient and that the range of dates was unreasonably broad. After the trial court overruled her demurrer, the Court of Appeals granted her request for an interlocutory appeal.

The Court first noted that, under Georgia law, a defendant who files a special demurrer prior to trial is entitled to an indictment which is perfect in both form and substance. Despite this, the Court held that referring to patients by initials was not insufficient. In reaching this decision, the Court explained that the patients were also identified by unique information such as Medicaid ID numbers and dates of birth. Additionally, the patients listed on the indictment were all minors and the State wanted to protect their sensitive health information.

Further justifying its decision, the Court reasoned that the indictment alleged that a crime was committed against the State of Georgia, rather than against the patients whose information was used in the fraudulent billing. The indictment, therefore, did not run afoul of the general requirement that the victim of a crime be identified in charging documents.

As to the range of dates, however, the Court of Appeals agreed that it was overly broad and caused the indictment to be imperfect. The State is required to allege specific dates in an indictment unless there is insufficient evidence to allow such specificity. In that event, the State must prove to the trial court that further specification of the dates is not possible.

Here, far from presenting evidence that they could not be more specific about dates, the State’s witness testified that he had been able to determine some specific dates on which the alleged activity occurred. Therefore, since the State was not able to show that specification was impossible, the Court of Appeals ruled that it was error for the trial court to deny the defendant’s special demurrer. As a result, the indictment against the defendant was quashed, and the State may now attempt to re-indict the case with dates as specific as its evidence will allow.

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