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State v. Dixon

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fourth Division

October 23, 2019

THE STATE
v.
DIXON.

          DOYLE, P. J., COOMER and MARKLE, JJ.

          COOMER, JUDGE.

         Marcus Dixon was arrested in July 2014 for two misdemeanor charges arising out of a domestic dispute. Dixon was later indicted in January 2016 for one felony count of aggravated assault family violence and obstruction of a 911 call arising out of the July 2014 incident. Dixon filed a motion to dismiss the indictment on the ground that his constitutional right to a speedy trial was violated. The trial court granted the motion, following a hearing. The State appeals from an order granting Dixon's motion to dismiss, and argues the trial court erred in concluding that Dixon was denied his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. More specifically, the State argues the trial court erred by misapplying the four-factor balancing test for determining whether the Sixth Amendment right to speedy trial was violated. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         "We review the trial court's order granting the motion to dismiss the indictment under an abuse of discretion standard. On appeal, the question is whether the trial court abused its discretion in ruling that [Dixon's] speedy trial rights were violated." State v. Moses, 301 Ga.App. 315, 316 (692 S.E.2d 1) (2009) (citation and punctuation omitted). Nonetheless, "where the trial court has clearly erred in some of its findings of fact and/or has misapplied the law to some degree, the deference owed the trial court's ultimate ruling is diminished." Thomas v. State, 331 Ga.App. 641, 660 (8) (771 S.E.2d 255) (2015) (citation and punctuation omitted).

         With these guiding principles in mind, the record shows that on July 11, 2014, Dixon was arrested for the offenses of misdemeanor battery (family violence) and obstructing or hindering an emergency call arising out of a domestic dispute. On January 15, 2016, Dixon was indicted for the felony offense of aggravated assault (family violence) and the misdemeanor offense of obstructing or hindering an emergency call. Dixon pleaded not guilty on April 18, 2016 and appeared on a final plea calendar on July 11, 2016, where he elected to proceed with trial. On August 1, 2017, Dixon filed a motion to dismiss the case, asserting that his constitutional right to a speedy trial had been violated. Specifically, Dixon argued, inter alia, that the delay between his arrest and the indictment was presumptively prejudicial and that the State utilized the delay in prosecuting the case to obtain a tactical advantage over him. Following a hearing, the trial court granted Dixon's motion and the State appealed.

         The State contends that the trial court made errors in its findings of fact and misapplied the four-factor test that guides Georgia courts in determining whether an accused's Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial has been violated. We disagree.

         The Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Georgia Constitution provide that criminal defendants shall have the right to a speedy trial. "The analysis has two stages. First, the court must determine whether the interval from the accused's arrest, indictment, or other formal accusation to the trial is sufficiently long to be considered presumptively prejudicial. Ruffin v. State, 284 Ga. 52, 55 (2) (663 S.E.2d 189) (2008) (footnote and punctuation omitted). "If not, the speedy trial claim fails at the threshold." Id. "If, however, the delay has passed the point of presumptive prejudice, the court must proceed to the second step of the Barker-Doggett[1] analysis, which requires the application of a delicate, context-sensitive, four-factor balancing test to determine whether the accused has been deprived of the right to a speedy trial." Id. "In determining whether the Sixth Amendment right to speedy trial has been violated, courts consider 1) the length of the delay, 2) the reason for the delay, 3) the defendant's assertion of the right to a speedy trial, and 4) whether the defendant was prejudiced by the delay." State v. Curry, 317 Ga.App. 611, 612-13 (732 S.E.2d 459) (2012) (citation omitted).

         In its order granting Dixon's motion to dismiss pursuant to his constitutional speedy trial demand, the trial court concluded that the one year, six months and four days that lapsed between Dixon's arrest and when he was indicted satisfied the legal threshold for the trial court to proceed to the second prong of its analysis. Moreover, on appeal, neither party disputes that the interval from Dixon's arrest and formal indictment through the then-scheduled trial date of January 10, 2018, was sufficiently long to be considered presumptively prejudicial. Because we agree with the trial court that the pretrial delay in this case created a presumption of prejudice, we move to the second stage of the constitutional speedy trial analysis.

         (a) Length of the Delay

         "The length of the pretrial delay in absolute terms plays a role in the threshold determination of presumptive prejudice. However, it also wears another hat as one of the four interrelated criteria that must be weighed in the balance at the second stage of the Barker-Doggett analysis." Ditman v. State, 301 Ga.App. 187, 190 (2) (a) (687 S.E.2d 155) (2009) (citation omitted). "The extent to which delay can be seen as uncommonly long depends to some extent on the complexity and seriousness of the charges in that case." Thomas v. State, 331 Ga.App. 641, 661 (8) (b) (i) (771 S.E.2d 255) (2015) (citation and punctuation omitted).

         Here, Dixon was arrested on July 11, 2014, on two misdemeanor charges of battery and obstruction or hindering an emergency call. On January 15, 2016, one year six months and four days after his arrest, Dixon was indicted for felony aggravated assault arising out of the July 2014 incident. At the hearing on Dixon's motion to dismiss, the State proffered no explanation for the delay between Dixon's arrest and indictment or what factored into the State's decision to charge Dixon with a felony 18 months after his arrest. This Court has previously held that, "[i]nvestigative delay is acceptable, whereas delay undertaken by the Government solely to gain tactical advantage over the accused is not acceptable." State v. Thaxton, 311 Ga.App. 260, 265 (2) (b) (715 S.E.2d 480) (2011) (citation omitted). As the trial court found here, the State did not adequately explain its failure to expeditiously pursue this relatively simple domestic incident except to say that the delay was the result of negligence and delays within the court system itself. Thus, we find no error in the trial court's analysis that this factor should be weighed against the State.

         (b) Reason for the Delay

         "Analysis of this factor requires a determination of whether the government or the defendant is more responsible for the delay." Harrison v. State, 311 Ga.App. 787, 790 (3) (b) (717 S.E.2d 303) (2011) (footnote omitted). Here, the trial court analyzed the reason for the delay in three phases: pre-indictment, post-indictment, and the delay after Dixon asserted his right to a speedy trial.

         (i) Pre-in ...


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