State v. Thomas

Summarized by:

  • Court: Oregon Court of Appeals
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: 10-29-2014
  • Case #: A150528
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Egan, J. for the Court; Armstrong, P.J.; and De Muniz, S.J.
  • Full Text Opinion

For a trial court to properly exercise its discretion to deny a motion for continuance, it must inquire into the nature, and evaluate the merits, of a defendant’s complaints.

Defendant appealed her conviction for three drug-related charges, assigning error to the trial court’s denial of her motion for continuance. The Court reviewed for abuse of discretion, to determine whether Defendant was in control of the circumstances that led to delay in acquiring new council. Three days before trial, Defendant’s attorney received an email from the prosecutor stating that he would ask the trial court to advise several of Defendant’s witnesses of their right against self-incrimination. Two days before trial, Defendant’s attorney reassessed the case and recommended Defendant plead guilty. The day before trial, Defendant obtained a new attorney, who that day filed a motion for continuance. Defendant’s attorney stated that the prior attorney had not yet remitted Defendant’s file to him, and that he believed several evidentiary issues had not been adequately addressed by the prior attorney. Defendant’s attorney stated that he needed more time to prepare. Defendant argued she had good cause for a continuance, rooted in circumstances beyond her control, and the denial of her motion jeopardized her right to trial. The State argued that, because it was foreseeable that Defendant’s witnesses might be subject to prosecution, Defendant did not have good cause for a continuance, and therefore the trial court did not abuse its discretion. The Court noted that the trial court had refused to hear testimony from Defendant or make findings regarding the credibility of Defendant’s assertions about her prior attorney’s unwillingness to go to trial, and that the trial court instead focused on judicial efficiency. The Court found that for the trial court to exercise its discretion properly, it must have inquired into the nature, and evaluated the merits of, Defendant’s complaints. The Court held that Defendant was not in control of the circumstances that caused delay, and therefore the trial court erred in denying the motion. Reversed and remanded.

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