Timberlake v. State is a case involving the delays in trial for criminal defendants due to COVID. The appeal is based on his normally unacceptable trial delays primarily due to court closures mandated by Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera, who was then serving as the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals of Maryland (now known as the Supreme Court of Maryland), as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There is also some interesting Hicks analysis that will be interesting to any Maryland criminal defense lawyer. The bottom line is that Judge Barbara’s order on COVID is binding and will not give criminal defendants an out.
Facts of Timberlake v. State
In 2019, Timberlake was a federal prisoner in New York for an alleged violation of his District of Columbia probation. He received a Maryland warrant for a burglary charge in Howard County. He wrote to the Howard County State’s Attorney’s office to request a trial there under the IADA. However, his trial was delayed multiple times due to court closures ordered by the Chief Judge of the Maryland Supreme Court during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the fall of 2020, Timberlake lawyer, an able public defender, filed a motion to dismiss on two grounds related to the trial delay. The Circuit Court denied the motion. Timberlake then appealed, arguing that the court denied his motion to dismiss. The court rejected both arguments, finding that the delay was due to the COVID-19 pandemic and that the time limits had been properly tolled. The court ultimately found Timberlake guilty of first-degree burglary, and he appealed the denials of his motions to dismiss.
The COVID/IADA Argument on Appeal
This case involves the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act (IADA), a law that allows for the temporary transfer of a prisoner from one state to another to face charges. The parties in the case are Timberlake, the defendant, and the State, the plaintiff.
Timberlake argues that the court made a mistake by not dismissing his case for violating the IADA. He claims that the court did not find a “good cause” to delay his trial beyond the 180-day mark, as required by law. Timberlake also argues that the court had no authority to toll his IADA clock due to COVID-19 court closures.
The State argues that the court correctly denied Timberlake’s motion, as the IADA clock was tolled during the COVID-19 court closures under administrative orders. The State points out that other states (North Dakota and Maine) have rejected claims that COVID-19 court shutdowns do not toll the IADA clock.
Here is the gist of the State’s argument (that ultimately carried the day):
“The cornerstone of Timberlake’s argument is that, he claims, at all times, [he] was ready to stand trial.’ (Brief of Appellant at 9; see also T. 9/16/22 at 4). In the present case, though, there was no ‘error’ making Timberlake unable to stand trial, for the purpose of the IAD. Instead, he was – through, concededly, no fault of his own, but also through no error by the State – unable to stand trial because courts were closed following a pandemic and an ensuing court order shuttering the trial courts of the State.”
The parties’ arguments focus on the “unable to stand trial” provision. The court must determine whether Timberlake was “unable to stand trial” within the meaning of the law.
The IADA is a law designed to facilitate the prompt disposition of a detainer lodged by one state against a person incarcerated in another state. Two provisions of the law are pertinent in this case: Section 8-405(a) provides that a prisoner must be brought to trial within 180 days of written notice of the charges, with the court able to grant a continuance for “good cause shown.” Section 8-408(a) specifies that the running of the 180 days is tolled whenever the prisoner is “unable to stand trial,” as determined by the court. The question is whether COVID makes a difference.
The court concludes that it does. It found that Timberlake was “unable to stand trial” due to the COVID-19 court closures and that the IADA clock was properly tolled. The court also determined that the circuit court did not need to make an explicit finding on the record using the exact words of the law for Timberlake’s IADA clock to have been tolled by the COVID-19 closures. Therefore, the court affirms the circuit court’s denial of Timberlake’s motion to dismiss.
The Maryland Rule 4-271, Criminal Procedure § 6-103 (“Hicks”) refers to the requirement that a criminal trial in a Maryland circuit court must begin within 180 days of certain triggering events. The rule was put in place to ensure prompt resolution of criminal cases. Timberlake, the defendant, argued that the court had violated Maryland Rule 4-271 and § 6-103 of the Criminal Procedure Article by postponing his trial beyond the adjusted Hicks deadline of January 29, 2021, that the postponement was not authorized by an administrative judge.
The State countered by arguing that a good cause finding can be made any time before the expiration of 180 days. Therefore, the administrative judge’s good cause finding on September 22 was sufficient for the continuance of the trial beyond January 29, 2021.
The court, in an opinion, authored by E. Gregory Wells – and joined by Judge Kathryn Grill Graeff and Judge Douglas R.M. Nazarian – found that the motion to dismiss based on an alleged Hicks violation made before the expiration of the 180 days was premature. Assuming Timberlake had moved to dismiss after the expiration of 180 days, the September 22, 2003 hearing – the first time that the late date was necessary due to COVID – was part of the proceeding that ultimately determined the trial would be held after the Hicks date.
However, the administrative judge made a good cause finding for postponing the trial. Timberlake did not demonstrate that the judge clearly abused his discretion or that good cause was lacking. Additionally, Timberlake effectively consented to postpone his trial beyond the Hicks date by not pursuing the judge’s offer to move the trial back within 180 days, so the court affirmed the decision.