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Court Remands Speedy Trial Ruling in Molestation Case

September 9, 2016

In State v. Wood, the Georgia Court of Appeals vacated the grant of the defendant’s motion to dismiss the indictment against him on constitutional speedy trial grounds and remanded the case for reconsideration, finding that the trial court made a factual error about the reason for the pretrial delay.

In 2007, the defendant was charged with child molestation and aggravated sexual battery offenses that were alleged to have been committed in 2006. The defendant, however, had moved to the Netherlands about a month prior to the arrest warrants being issued. The case was then indicted in 2009 and the defendant did not appear at his arraignment. In 2013, he was re-indicted and ultimately arrested in Finland.

In March 2015, while still awaiting extradition in Finland, the defense filed a motion to dismiss the case alleging a violation of the defendant’s right to a speedy trial, and the State filed no response. In the motion, it was contended that the U.S. government executed an extradition request on October 22, 2013. However, at the hearing on the motion, no evidence was introduced with respect to the extradition request. Following the hearing that was held without the defendant’s presence, the trial court granted the motion.

The State argued that the trial court erred in considering the defendant’s motion because he had not yet been arraigned on the charges or otherwise come under the jurisdiction of the court. The Court of Appeals held that, by filing his motion to dismiss, the defendant waived formal arraignment and was subject to the court’s jurisdiction. The State argued that his failure to attend the hearing on the motion and to appear in court constituted a waiver of any motions pending on that date. This argument was rejected by both the trial court and Court of Appeals because the defendant was subject to a travel ban as a condition of his extradition bond in Finland.

The State also contended that the defendant waived his speedy trial rights by making himself unavailable after learning of his charges, but the Court refused to hold that a defendant should automatically forfeit his right to assert a speedy trial claim for leaving the country prior to charges being filed.

However, the Court agreed with the State that the trial court erred in its factual finding that there was no evidence of efforts to extradite the defendant back to the United States. The Court noted that “a defendant in a criminal proceeding may make judicial admissions in his pleadings, motions, and briefs, and that such admissions bind the defendant.”

Therefore, it was held that the trial court erred in failing to consider the fact that the defendant admitted in his motion that an extradition request had, in fact, been made. As a result, the Court remanded the case back to the trial court for a reconsideration of the motion. Interestingly, the Court also stated that the trial court “may also permit the parties to supplement the record with other evidence regarding the extradition proceedings that no party actually disputes have occurred.”

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