The statute of limitations and right to a speedy trial are intended to guarantee that a person accused of a crime be charged and given a trial within a reasonable amount of time. As a recent case out of the West Virginia Supreme Court shows, however, they don’t necessarily prevent state prosecutors from slowing down the process.
Mr. Caldwell was charged with DUI after an October 2011 incident in which he crashed his car into a tree. According to state prosecutors, he told emergency medical services workers who arrived on the scene that he’d been drinking before the accident. Police were not able to conduct sobriety tests on Caldwell because the serious injuries that he suffered required him to be flown to a hospital, where he recuperated for about a month. The police chose not to arrest him immediately and instead charged Caldwell with DUI after he left the hospital. He was notified that a warrant had been issued for his arrest during a December 2011 meeting with his probation officer. Caldwell was also hit with unrelated drug charges, his probation was revoked, and he was incarcerated.
Caldwell first appeared in court on the DUI charge in January 2013. The proceedings were delayed a number of times, however, as prosecutors sought to get samples of his blood taken from the out of state hospital where he was treated after the crash. The trial court denied Caldwell’s motion to dismiss the charge in October 2013, and he then entered a conditional guilty plea. Caldwell later appealed the ruling on his motion to dismiss, arguing that the statute of limitations had run and that the delays violated his right to a speedy trial.
Affirming the decision on appeal, the Supreme Court said the trial court didn’t abuse its discretion in granting prosecutors’ requests for continuances during the litigation and in denying Caldwell’s motion to dismiss the charge against him. Although a trial is typically required to begin within 120 days of a defendant’s arrest, the Court said that deadline can be extended for “good cause.” Here, the continuances were necessary so that prosecutors could get their hands on the blood sample, which the Court said was the only evidence of whether Caldwell was innocent or guilty.
The Court further explained that the statute of limitations required Caldwell to be charged with a crime within a year of the date of the alleged offense. It did not, the Court said, require that trial to start within the one-year period.
It’s important that a person facing criminal charges seek the counsel of an experienced criminal defense attorney. The West Virginia criminal defense lawyers at the Wolfe Law Firm have been serving clients throughout the state for more than 25 years. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.
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