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Uribe v. State

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fourth Division

June 13, 2018


          DILLARD, C. J., DOYLE, P. J., and MERCIER, J.

          MERCIER, JUDGE.

         Mateo Uribe appeals from the trial court's order denying his motion for discharge and acquittal on statutory speedy trial grounds under OCGA § 17-7-170, contending that the order is erroneous and that the court erred in denying his motion without first holding an evidentiary hearing, in violation of his constitutional right to due process.[1] For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         1. We disagree with Uribe's contention that the trial court's findings were erroneous. "The denial of a statutory speedy trial demand presents a question of law which this Court reviews de novo." Rogers v. State, 340 Ga.App. 24 (795 S.E.2d 328) (2016) (citation omitted). "When we consider the meaning of a statute, we must presume that the General Assembly meant what it said and said what it meant. When a statute contains clear and unambiguous language, such language will be given its plain meaning and will be applied accordingly." Williamson v. State, 295 Ga. 185, 186 (1) (758 S.E.2d 790) (2014) (citations and punctuation omitted).

         OCGA § 17-7-170 (a) sets forth the required form for a statutory speedy trial demand in a non-capital case:

A demand for speedy trial filed pursuant to this Code section shall be filed as a separate, distinct, and individual document and shall not be a part of any other pleading or document. Such demand shall clearly be ti tled "Demand for Speedy Trial"; reference this Code section within the pleading; and identify the indictment number or accusation number for which such demand is being made[.]

(Emphasis supplied). OCGA § 17-7-170 (b) provides that "[i]f the defendant is not tried when the demand for speedy trial is made or at the next succeeding regular court term thereafter, provided that at both court terms there were juries impaneled and qualified to try the defendant, the defendant shall be absolutely discharged and acquitted of the offense charged in the indictment or accusation."

Dismissing a criminal case pursuant to OCGA § 17-7-170 is an extreme sanction, one which may be invoked only if the defendant has strictly complied with the statute. . . .OCGA § 17-7-170 confers a statutory right upon persons accused of a crime to demand trial, and because the penalty imposed by this statute against the state is so great, it must be strictly construed.

Eagles v. State, 269 Ga.App. 462, 464-465 (1) (604 S.E.2d 294) (2004) (citations and punctuation omitted) (applying a former version of OCGA § 17-7-170 and finding that a speedy trial demand was a nullity because it was filed prior to the defendant being indicted or accused, in violation of the statutory requirements).

         The relevant facts in this case are mostly undisputed. Following the binding over of Uribe's case from the Recorder's Court of Gwinnett County to the State Court of Gwinnett County, the State filed an accusation on February 1, 2017, charging Uribe with driving under the influence of alcohol (less safe), driving under the influence of alcohol (per se), speeding, and failure to maintain lane, which offenses allegedly occurred on June 10, 2016. On February 15, 2017, Uribe's counsel filed several pleadings, including a document entitled "Defendant's Waiver of Formal Arraignment, Entry of 'Not Guilty' Plea and Demand For Jury Trial" (the "demand"). The text of that pleading is as follows:

NOW COMES Defendant and hereby waives formal arraignment, enters a plea of "not guilty" to all pending charges, and demands a trial by jury pursuant to Art. I, Sec. I, Par. XI (a) and Art. I, Sec. I, Par. I of the Georgia Constitution, as well as the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, and under OCGA § 17-7-170. Having served the Prosecutor with a copy of this demand within the present term or the next term of this court, the Defendant prays that he/she be acquitted and discharged of any and all offenses charged/arising herein in the event a trial is not had within that time period.

         On July 28, 2017, Uribe filed his "Motion for Discharge and Acquittal Pursuant to OCGA § 17-7-170" (the "motion"), arguing that because he had not been tried in the same term in which he filed his demand or in the next succeeding term, he was entitled to discharge and acquittal. Uribe contends on appeal that, along with the motion, he filed a rule nisi and requested a hearing. However, the record contains no evidence that Uribe requested a hearing on the motion, either at the pages that he cites in his brief or anywhere else in the record. The State filed a brief in opposition to the motion, and on August 28, 2017, the trial court entered an order denying the motion for discharge and acquittal, finding that Uribe's demand did not comply with the requirements of OCGA § 17-7-170 because (1) it was not entitled "Demand for Speedy Trial" and (2) it was not filed as a separate, distinct and individual document.

         The pleading requirements set forth in OCGA § 17-7-70 (a) are clear and unambiguous, and we therefore give them their plain and ordinary meaning. See Wi lliamson, supra. Uribe did not comply strictly with the pleading requirements in that statute. See Eagles, supra. His pleading was not entitled "Demand for Speedy Trial" and was filed as part of another pleading (a waiver of formal arraignment, entry of not guilty plea, and demand for jury trial). Therefore, Uribe did not properly file a statutory speedy trial demand pursuant to OCGA § 17-7-170 (a) and he is not entitled to discharge and acquittal pursuant to OCGA § 17-7-170 (b). See Jones v. State, 304 Ga.App. 445, 448-449 (2) (b) (696 S.E.2d 346) (2010) (there was no merit to appeal from denial of speedy trial motion where the purported statutory speedy trial demand was not a separate, distinct and individual document as required by OCGA § 17-7-170; the defendant failed to demonstrate that he served the State with a copy of the demand; and he waived the right to speedy trial by announcing "not ready" for trial on two separate dates); compare Rogers, supra at 25 (where the speedy trial demand was filed separately, was clearly and distinctly titled, referenced OCGA § 17-7-170, and identified the accusation number for the defendant's case, it complied with the statutory pleading requirements for a speedy trial demand); Hudson v. State, 311 Ga.App. 206 (715 S.E.2d 442) (2011) (reversing an order denying a motion for discharge and acquittal and remanding case where one certificate of service was used for the speedy trial demand as well as ten other documents, the demand was otherwise a separate, distinct and individual document, the demand was titled "Demand for Speedy Jury Trial, " and it otherwise complied with the pleading requirements of OCGA § 17-7-170 (a)).

         Uribe asserts that the text of his demand was sufficient to constitute a statutory speedy trial demand, that the caption or title of the motion must be read in conjunction with the text, that he was not required to use the exact title "Demand for Speedy Trial, " and there is no prescribed form for a speedy trial demand. However, the 2006 revision of OCGA § 17-7-170 added (among others) the pleading requirements at issue here. See Ga. L. 2006, p. 893, § 1. Those ...

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