Miss. high court rules no speedy trial problem in Hinds Co. case

Published 7:17 pm Friday, January 12, 2007

The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Phelan Terrell Guice’s rights were not violated even though he was brought to trial 550 days after his arrest, more than double the maximum allowed by the state’s speedy trial law.

The justices, in a 6-3 decision, upheld Guice’s conviction and 20-year sentence handed down in 2004 in Hinds County for shooting a Jackson homeowner. Guice was arrested for the crime on Sept. 14, 2001; was arraigned on Oct. 30, 2002; and was brought to trial on May 3, 2004. Guice was in jail the entire time.

Under state law, if a defendant is not tried within 270 days of his arraignment, he is entitled to a dismissal of the charges. Continuances, by either the defendant or the prosecution, can extend the time.

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The state Court of Appeals, in upholding Guice’s conviction last year, said no speedy trial violation occurred.

Justice George C. Carlson Jr., writing Thursday for the Supreme Court, said while there was a speedy trial violation, Circuit Judge Winston Kidd did not err by refusing to dismiss the indictment.

“We see no reason to engage in speculation as to what caused the delays in today’s case, but a fair reading of the record in this case certainly creates fairly strong inferences that at least part of the delay was caused by Guice’s obstinate refusal to cooperate with his court-appointed attorneys,” Carlson said.

Carlson said the Supreme Court ruled in a 1996 case that a defendant may effectively waive his right to complain of not being tried within the 270-day period, when he does not request or assert his right to a speedy trial or object to a delay, especially when the defendant fails to show any prejudice in the failure to be tried within the statutory 270-day period.

“To this day, Guice has yet to assert his right to a speedy trial, and it was not until 463 days after his arraignment that Guice, for the first time via a motion to dismiss, complained of not being put to trial timely. In fact, even on his trial date, which was 551 days after his arraignment, Guice told Judge Kidd that he was not asking for a speedy trial, but he ‘was asking for my charges to be dismissed on the grounds of a violation of a speedy trial.’

“If we were to dismiss the indictment against Guice on the record in today’s case, we would, in one fell swoop, overrule a line of cases by declaring that Guice, a man who most assuredly did not want a speedy trial, has the inalienable right to have his case dismissed because the state, nor the trial court, explained the reason for the delay in his being put to trial,” Carlson said.

Justice Oliver Diaz Jr., in a dissent joined by two other justices, said Mississippi’s speedy trial law was enacted in 1976. He said defendants were required to be tried with 270 days after arraignment unless a continuance based upon good cause was granted by the trial court.

He said the Supreme Court has changed its rulings in recent years to require some showing of prejudice by a defendant.

“It is imperative that we return to strict compliance with the 270-day statute and overrule the line of cases that stray from the plain and unambiguous language crafted by the Legislature.

“There is no exception for a showing of ‘prejudice,’ nor does that word appear anywhere in the statute; this part of the law has been crafted wholly by the justices of this court,” Diaz said.

Diaz said the court record showed no continuances nor requests for them from either the prosecutors or Guice. He said prosecutors never provided any reason for the delay.

“Accordingly, because no continuance was granted based upon good cause, it is clear based upon the clear and unambiguous language of the statute that any trial beyond the 270 days is improper, and the conviction should be reversed,” Diaz said.