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State of Idaho v. Josh M. Clark

December 28, 2000

STATE OF IDAHO, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
JOSH M. CLARK, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Walters, Justice.

Josh M. Clark entered a conditional plea of guilty to a charge of misdemeanor battery, reserving the right to appeal the magistrate's denial of his motion to dismiss the charge. On appeal, Clark asserts that the action should have been dismissed due to the deprivation of his statutory right to a speedy trial. This Court agrees with Clark's position. Accordingly, we reverse the magistrate court's ruling and direct the magistrate to dismiss the charge.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

This case began on January 10, 1997, when Josh Clark was charged in Boise with misdemeanor battery under I.C. § 18-903. The charge stemmed from an incident in which Clark allegedly hit and choked Julie French, who is Clark's ex-wife. Clark was arraigned before a magistrate in Ada County on April 16, 1997, and entered a plea of not guilty. The case was scheduled for pre-trial conference on August 19, 1997, and for a jury trial beginning September 8, 1997. At the August 19 pre-trial conference, however, the State requested a continuance to accommodate the complaining witness, French. The prosecutor informed the magistrate that French lived in Montana and was scheduled to take "board exams" on September 8. The prosecutor also stated that French could not travel to Boise for a trial between September 20 and October 6, 1997, because of teaching obligations. Clark's counsel objected to the continuance, asserting his client's right to a speedy trial. The magistrate vacated the September 8 trial date over Clark's objection and reset the trial for September 22, 1997, stating that French would have to take measures to make herself available at that time. As was usually the practice in the magistrate division in Ada County, there were a number of other cases calendared for trial on the same date before the same magistrate.

On September 18, the magistrate again took up the matter of the trial date on the State's motion. Because Clark's trial did not have a first priority setting among the cases scheduled for trial on September 22, the State requested that the magistrate either give Clark's trial top priority on September 22 or move the trial to a date on which it would have priority over the other cases. The State emphasized that it did not want French to have to travel from Montana to Boise if the case could not be tried on the scheduled date. Clark's counsel, again asserting his client's right to a speedy trial, responded that the case had previously been reset to accommodate French, and that he was prepared to try the case on September 22.

Upon consideration, the magistrate concluded that giving Clark's trial top priority on September 22 was impossible because the court had fifteen to twenty cases set for jury trial on that date, including one criminal case with a higher priority. Noting that the other criminal matter was likely to go to trial, the magistrate continued Clark's trial until December 15, 1997-the first available date when Clark's case could have top priority. The parties later stipulated that the magistrate's prediction turned out to be incorrect, as the other case with higher priority on September 22 was settled on the day of trial.

Clark filed a "Renewed Demand for Speedy Trial" on October 7, 1997. In this motion, Clark requested a trial date prior to October 16, which was the final day of the six-month limit established by I.C. § 19-3501(3) for trials in misdemeanor cases. The magistrate, however, citing "court congestion," denied the motion. Clark then moved to dismiss the case based on a violation of his right to a speedy trial. The magistrate conducted a hearing on December 15 and, stating that the volume of the court's caseload made it impossible to afford Clark his right to a trial within the statutory six-month period, denied Clark's motion to dismiss.

Clark subsequently entered a guilty plea, reserving his right to appeal the speedy trial issue. The magistrate entered an order withholding judgment and placed Clark on probation. Clark timely appealed the denial of his motion to dismiss. The decision of the magistrate was affirmed by the district court and later by the Court of Appeals. This Court granted Clark's petition for review under I.A.R. 118.

The sole issue on appeal in this case is whether good cause existed for the delay in scheduling Clark's case for trial.

DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

In cases that come before this Court on a petition for review of a Court of Appeals' decision, this Court gives serious consideration to the opinions of the Court of Appeals but directly reviews the decisions of the trial court. See Marshall v. Blair, 130 Idaho 675, 679, 946 P.2d 975, 979 (1997) (citing Schiewe v. Farwell, 125 Idaho 46, 49, 867 P.2d 920, 923 (1993)). Likewise, upon review of a case appealed from a district court's appellate review of a magistrate's decision, this Court makes an independent appellate review of the magistrate's decision, after giving due regard to the district court's ruling. See Ausman v. State, 124 Idaho 839, 840, 864 P.2d 1126, 1127 (1993). Whether there was an infringement of Clark's statutory right to a speedy trial presents a mixed question of law and fact. The Court will defer to the magistrate's findings of fact if supported by substantial and competent evidence. See McNelis v. McNelis, 119 Idaho 349, 351, 806 P.2d 442, 444 (1991). This Court, however, exercises free review of the trial court's conclusions of law. See Clements Farms, Inc. v. Ben Fish & Son, 120 Idaho 185, 188, 814 P.2d 917, 920 (1991). The Court may substitute its view for that of the trial court on a legal issue. See Idaho Appellate Handbook, Standards of Appellate Review in State and Federal Courts, § 4.2 (1996).

B. Good Cause Under I.C. § 19-3501

Criminal defendants are guaranteed the right to a speedy public trial under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and under Article I, section 13 of the Idaho Constitution. In Idaho, these constitutional provisions have been supplemented by legislation that sets specific time limits within which a criminal defendant must be brought to trial. See I.C. § 19-3501 (2000); see also Schrom v. Cramer, 76 Idaho 1, 275 P.2d 979 (1954). Indeed, the operative statute was enacted in 1864 while Idaho was still a territory and was in force and effect at the time of the adoption of our constitution. See id. at 5, 275 P.2d at 981. The current version of Idaho Code section 19-3501 states:

The court, unless good cause to the contrary is shown, must order the prosecution or indictment to be ...


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