Decision: State v. Vaughn

January 30th. The Kansas Supreme Court has issued its opinion in State v. Vaughn (No. 98,840) concerning the statutory right to a speedy trial. In a unanimous opinion, authored by Justice Davis, the Court vacates a District Court ruling, dismissing charges against Merle Vaughn on speedy trial grounds and orders the District Court to hold a further hearing to clarify whether the defendant acquiesced in the delays that led to his trial being held up for 269 days. Note: Robert Davis is now the Chief Justice of the Kansas Supreme Court. This case was argued when former Chief Justice, Kay McFarland was still a member of the Court.

Merle Vaughn was charged with three accusations of misconduct relating to his role as Chief of Police in Edwardsville. Various Wyandotte County judges recused themselves from the case. Eventually Senior Judge William Lyle agreed to preside over the case. The Defense sought one continuance and received it. Subsequently a number of continuances were given due to ill health on the part of Judge Lyle and a potential conflict of interest between Lyle and Vaughn’s defense counsel. When the case came to the point of hearing its first argument on a pre-trial motion to dismiss, the 180 day statutory speedy trial period had been exceeded. Judge Lyle therefore dismissed the case noting that it was not enough to show that the defendant had acquiesced in the delays and therefore lost his right to a speedy trial.

The Kansas Supreme Court corrects Judge Lyle on this point. In fact, if a defendant is shown to acquiesce to the delay then they do waive their right and that continuance is tolled against the 180 day limit (the clock stops until the continuance is over). However, in Kansas acquiescence cannot be completely passive, so there must be positive proof that Vaughn agreed to the continuance. When the delays are broken down most of them cannot be tolled to the defendant. However, following one of them the defense counsel wrote to the prosecution stating the Judge’s decision to delay the proceedings. If this letter constitutes acquiescence then 16 days remain of the trial period. If this act was (as the defense argues) merely acting as a conduit for passing on the Judge’s ruling this period would not toll, and the speedy trial period would be held to have elapsed.

The Court was unable to make this determination based on the record before it. Since it involves what was said between the defense and Judge Lyle, and since Judge Lyle previously did not take acquiescence into account in his ruling the Supreme Court remanded the case to him to determine whether Vaughn acquiesced to that particular delay, and proceed with the case accordingly.

As an aside, the Court rejected an argument by the State that it hold that a judge’s illness should toll the speedy trial period. The State had argued that 10 out of 15 cited jurisdictions work this way. The Court holds that however those jurisdictions do it, the text of the Kansas Statute does not allow for a judge’s illness to delay a trial beyond the 180 day period, since the defense is not culpable for it.

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