Battering v. State, No. 20S-CR-31, __ N.E.3d __ (Ind., Aug. 5, 2020).

David, J.

The State bears the burden of prosecuting individuals charged with crimes. To ensure efficient disposition and resolution of criminal prosecutions, the State must bring an accused to trial within certain deadlines imposed by Indiana Criminal Rule 4. Recognizing that some delays are inevitable, Criminal Rule 4 allows these time limitations to be extended or tolled in certain circumstances based on the actions of either the State, the defendant, or the trial court. But once the proverbial clock strikes midnight and the limitations period has run, a criminal defendant is entitled to discharge if he or she so moves.

In the present case, the State filed an interlocutory appeal after Defendant Brandon Battering successfully suppressed certain evidence. Rather than request a stay of the proceedings—a motion that almost certainly would have been granted—the State specifically asked for only a continuance during the pendency of its appeal. After Battering moved for discharge under Criminal Rule 4(C), the State belatedly asked for and received a stay of the proceedings. Battering renewed his motion for discharge and the trial court denied his request.

The issue now presented for our review upon Battering’s interlocutory appeal is whether, for the purposes of Criminal Rule 4(C), the State’s action of seeking an interlocutory appeal automatically stayed the proceedings so as to toll Rule 4(C)’s one-year limitation. In other words, was the State required to specifically move for a stay of the proceedings, or did the interlocutory appeal create an automatic stay? Reviewing the plain language of Indiana Rule of Appellate Procedure 14 in conjunction with Criminal Rule 4(C), we find that Rule 4(C)’s clock continued to tick until the State formally moved for a stay of the proceedings. Because this time continued to count against Rule 4’s one-year limitation in prosecuting the charged crimes and the State exceeded this limitation, we reverse the trial court and find that Battering is entitled to discharge.

Battering has consistently argued that he is entitled to discharge under Criminal Rule 4(C). He argues, on the one hand, that the State’s own motion for interlocutory appeal—combined with the plain language of Indiana Appellate Rule 14(H)—shows that the Rule 4(C) clock ran up to and until the State formally moved to stay the proceedings. The State, on the other hand, argues that its motion to certify this matter for interlocutory appeal and continue the proceedings was a “stay-insubstance” and urges us to consider the context of the interlocutory appeal rather than strictly construe the words of the relevant rules. The language of Criminal Rule 4(C) and Appellate Rule 14(H), in light of our Court’s precedent, however, leads us to the result that Battering seeks: The State’s motion for continuance was not a stay under Criminal Rule 4(C). Battering is, therefore, entitled to discharge.

As the rule suggests, criminal defendants extend the one-year period “by seeking or acquiescing in delay resulting in a later trial date.” Pelley v. State, 901 N.E.2d 494, 498 (Ind. 2009) (citing Vermillion v. State, 719 N.E.2d 1201, 1204 (Ind. 1999)). Additionally, a defendant generally waives rights under Rule 4(C) by failing to offer a timely objection to trial dates set outside the one-year limitation, unless the setting of that date occurs after the one-year period has expired. Id. at 499 (citation omitted).

We can glean from these decisions that Rule 4(C)’s one-year limitation always tolls when a stay is in place. If a stay is not in place, however, the clock continues to tick against the State.  So the question in this case is whether the State’s interlocutory appeal constituted a stay even if the State did not formally request one. Our appellate rules answer this question. Indiana Appellate Rule 14(H) provides:

An interlocutory appeal shall not stay proceedings in the trial court unless the trial court or a judge of the Court of Appeals so orders. The order staying proceedings may be conditioned upon the furnishing of a bond or security protecting the appellee against loss incurred by the interlocutory appeal.

(Emphasis added.) A plain reading of this rule provides that an interlocutory appeal only constitutes a stay if the trial court or the Court of Appeals so orders. The “shall not – unless” structure of this rule seemingly forecloses any alternate route to a stay.

Nevertheless, the State urges that it complied—either constructively or substantially—with the spirit of the rule and should not be punished with the continued ticking of the Criminal Rule 4(C) clock. The State further argues that it had no other option in this case than to initiate an interlocutory appeal after the trial court’s adverse ruling to Battering’s motion to suppress. Be that as it may, the State did have an appropriate remedy available to it when it sought an interlocutory appeal: Request a stay. It failed to do so here.

The State bears the burden to prosecute a given case within the bounds of Rule 4(C). As indicated above, there are many valid procedural avenues to extend or toll this timeline. The words of the applicable rules could not be any clearer: The State needed to request—and be granted—a stay of the proceedings in order to toll Rule 4(C)’s one-year limitation. Because it did not do so until it was too late, Battering is entitled to discharge.

Conclusion

Battering has successfully shown that Criminal Rule 4(C)’s one-year limitation has been surpassed. Under this rule, he is therefore entitled to discharge. We reverse the trial court and discharge the defendant.

Rush, C.J., and Massa, Slaughter, and Goff, JJ., concur.

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