Ohio Supreme Court Clarifies Speedy-Trial Clock

A violation of a defendant's right to a speedy trial can result in dismissal of the charges against him, as we have described before. In Ohio v. Sanford, the Ohio Supreme Court addressed how the right to a speedy trial works when the government adds new charges at a later date. Are the new charges subject to the same time limit as the original charges, or do the later-added charges start a new speedy-trial period? Sanford explains that if those later charges could have been brought earlier, they are subject to the same clock as the earlier charges, but if the later charges depend on different facts or new information not previously known to the government, then the later charges get a new clock.


Like the U.S. constitution, Ohio's constitution provides for a right to a speedy trial. R.C. 2945.71 codifies the right. It provides that a person facing felony charges must be brought to trial within 270 days of arrest or 90 days if the person is in custody. The Sanford decision involved a driver indicted after killing a motorcyclist in a car accident. The defendant admitted to drinking and smoking marijuana before the accident. Despite that admission, the state initially charged him with only with one felony (failure to stop after an accident). When the grand jury later returned an indictment, it added six charges, including two variations of aggravated vehicular homicide based on different OVI offenses and a charge that the defendant had been driving with prohibited levels of drugs in his system, a per se OVI offense based on the results from a toxicology report. The defendant was arraigned on the indictment after having been in jail for 95 days.

The government conceded that several charges—failure to stop after an accident, driving without a license, and driving while under suspension—should be dismissed on speedy trial grounds. The appeals court then dismissed the impaired driving variant of the aggravated homicide charge and the impaired driving OVI charges on speedy trial grounds, reasoning that the state had sufficient information to prosecute those charges at the time of the arrest without the later toxicology report. That decision left only the charges of driving with prohibited levels of drugs (the per se OVI offense) and aggravated vehicular homicide predicated on the per se OVI offense. The Ohio Supreme Court took the appeal to clarify the speedy-trial rules for later-added charges.

Court's Analysis

The Court explained that it long has been the rule that "the state may not indefinitely extend the statutory speedy-trial period by continually filing additional, related charges. . . . [W]hen new and additional charges arise from the same facts as did the original charge and the state knew of such facts at the time of the initial indictment, the time within which trial is to begin on the additional charge is subject to the same speedy-trial period that is applied to the original charge." The analysis changes when new or different facts are involved: "[w]hen additional criminal charges arise from facts distinct from those supporting an original charge, or the state was unaware of such facts at that time, the state is not required to bring the accused to trial within the same statutory period."

In analyzing the proper speedy-trial period for new charges, the "proper inquiry is to consider whether at the time the initial charges were filed, the state had all the information necessary to bring additional related charges. . . . If the state had the necessary information at the outset, then the additional charges are subject to the same speedy-trial period as the original charges. If not, then the additional charges will trigger a new speedy-trial clock." That is a fact-dependent analysis that often will vary by case. In Sanford, the laboratory results were necessary to establish that the defendant had unlawful levels of marijuana in his blood, so the charges relating to the per se OVI offense were not subject to the same speedy-trial period as the original offenses.

An Unresolved Issue

A concurrence to the opinion highlighted that the aggravated vehicular homicide count conceivably could have been barred on speedy-trial grounds too. Initially, the state had brought two variants of the vehicular homicide charge, predicated on different OVI offenses. Although the version predicated on unlawful marijuana levels depended on the outcome of the toxicology report, the version predicated on impaired driving did not. The defendant had conceded to drinking and using marijuana before the crash, which would have been sufficient to charge the impaired driving OVI offense at the time of the initial charge. Because the aggravated vehicular homicide charge could have been predicated on either impaired driving or prohibited levels of marijuana, the state could have brought the homicide charge at the time of the initial arrest. In the concurrence's view, the "state's discovery of additional evidence to support a charge or additional evidence that would allow the state to bring the charge under a different theory should not restart the speedy-trial clock." But, no one argued that issue as part of the appeal, so the Court did not address it.


The Sanford opinion clarifies the speedy-trial analysis for later-added charges. The decision also highlights the importance of defense counsel being attuned to potential violations of the speedy-trial rights. Five of the seven counts against the defendant were dismissed on speedy-trial grounds. But, the concurrence shows that the there was a legitimate possibility of having a sixth count—and by far the most serious remaining charge—dismissed under the same logic, yet that point was not briefed.