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People v. Hajjaj

June 29, 2009

THE PEOPLE, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
FIRME HASSAN HAJJAJ, DEFENDANT AND RESPONDENT.



APPEAL from an order and judgment of the Superior Court of Riverside County, Thomas H. Cahraman, Judge. Reversed and remanded. (Super. Ct. No. SWF024102).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nares, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

A defendant in a criminal case must be brought to trial within the statutorily prescribed time period unless good cause is shown. (Pen. Code,*fn1 § 1382, subd. (a).)

This appeal*fn2 presents the following issue: When, on the last day of the prescribed time period, a courtroom becomes ready and available for trial in the late afternoon at a branch court physically remote from the criminal calendar court at the main courthouse and that remoteness prevents the parties and counsel from appearing for trial that day, does the physical remoteness constitute good cause to commence the trial the next day at the branch court? We conclude it does, as we will explain hereafter.

The People appeal the dismissal under section 1382 of an information charging Firme Hassan Hajjaj, who was out of custody on bail during all of the proceedings in this matter, with one felony count of transporting for sale a controlled substance (methamphetamine) in violation of Health and Safety Code section 11379, subdivision (a). After finding no courtrooms available for trial and no good cause to continue the trial beyond the statutory time limit for bringing the case to trial, the calendar court (hereafter the court) granted Hajjaj's motion for dismissal for lack of a speedy trial under section 1382, subdivision (a) (hereafter section 1382(a)), which interprets and implements the state constitutional right to a speedy trial (see Cal. Const., art. I, § 15), and entered the judgment of dismissal on July 29, 2008,*fn3 the day after the last day on which Hajjaj could have been brought to trial under that subdivision absent a showing of good cause. The record shows that a courtroom became available for the trial of this criminal case late in the afternoon of that last day for trial (July 28) under section 1382(a) at a branch of the Riverside County Superior Court located in Indio, California, but the court, itself located at the Riverside Hall of Justice in the City of Riverside, found it would be futile to send this case to the Indio court for trial because there was not enough time for Hajjaj, his counsel, and the prosecutor to drive to the Indio court before it closed that day.

The People contend (1) the court committed legal error and abused its discretion when it failed to properly consider the availability of civil judges and courtrooms to handle the last-day criminal trial in this matter; and (2) the court erred by failing to find that the inability of the parties to travel safely to the Indio court for trial on July 28 by the close of the court day was good cause to permit a brief continuance of the trial to the following morning. We conclude that the physical distance of the available and ready Indio branch courtroom from the court's location in the City of Riverside, which made it impossible for this criminal case to be brought to trial late in the afternoon of the last statutory day for trial, constituted good cause for the court to order Hajjaj, his counsel, and the prosecutor to appear in the Indio court for the commencement of trial beyond the time limit set under section 1382(a). Accordingly, we reverse both the order granting Hajjaj's motion to dismiss and the judgment of dismissal, and remand the matter for further proceedings.*fn4

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND*fn5

On May 2, the Riverside County District Attorney charged Hajjaj in an information with one felony count of selling or transporting methamphetamine in violation of Health and Safety Code section 11379, subdivision (a). The information also alleged that Hajjaj had previously been convicted (in June 1998) of a violation of Health and Safety Code section 11379, subdivision (a) within the meaning of Health and Safety Code section 11370.2, subdivision (a), and he had served a prison term for that offense (Pen. Code, § 667.5, subd. (b)).

At his May 6 arraignment, Hajjaj, who remained free of custody on bail pending trial, pleaded not guilty and denied the sentencing enhancement allegations. The court's minutes indicate that July 7 was the last day for the commencement of the trial.

At the May 28 trial readiness conference, Presiding Judge Michael S. Hider set the matter for trial on June 30. On June 30, Judge Hider trailed the jury trial to July 1.

On July 1, the parties again appeared before Judge Hider and announced they were ready for trial. Judge Hider assigned the matter to the Riverside master calendar department and trailed the jury trial to July 10. The parties stipulated that July 14 was the last day for the commencement of the trial.

On July 10, Judge Timothy F. Freer in the master calendar department granted Hajjaj's unopposed motion to continue the trial under section 1050, subdivision (d) (hereafter section 1050(d)) for good cause shown, on the ground Hajjaj's trial counsel, Deputy Public Defender Yusun Kang, was in trial. Hajjaj waived time for trial, and Judge Freer set the matter for trial on July 16. The court's minutes indicate July 28 was the last day for the commencement of the trial.

On July 16, over defense objection, the court (Judge Mark A. Mandio) on its own motion, found good cause under section 1050(d) for a continuance and trailed the jury trial due to "courtroom unavailability " to July 23, which the court's minutes indicate was "within [the] previous time waiver." The minutes also reflect that the prosecutor was assigned to trial in another department and thus was not available for trial in this case.

On July 23, both parties announced they were ready for trial, and they both stipulated to a motion to trail the trial date pursuant to section 1050 and California Rules of Court, rule 4.115(b).*fn6 Judge Mandio found good cause for a continuance within the meaning of section 1050(d), granted the stipulated motion, and trailed the trial to July 25. The court's minutes indicate that July 28 remained the last day to commence the trial under the "previous time waiver."

On July 25, the parties again announced they were ready for trial and provided a time estimate of three days for the trial. On its own motion, the court trailed the trial to July 28 "due to courtroom unavailability." Judge Mandio found good cause for a continuance within the meaning of section 1050(d).

A. Monday, July 28 Hearing

On July 28, at 4:04 p.m., at the Riverside Hall of Justice*fn7 located at 4100 Main Street in the City of Riverside, the court (Judge Thomas H. Cahraman) called this case (and several other criminal cases). Hajjaj was present and not in custody. Both parties indicated they were ready for trial. The court noted it was the last day for commencement of trial in this matter and informed the parties, "I seem to be out of courtrooms." Defense counsel objected to any further delay and, noting the unavailability of a courtroom, asked the court to set a hearing on a defense motion to dismiss the case. The court indicated that it was inclined to grant the request to set the motion for hearing on July 29 and that its ruling would be to grant the motion.

With leave of court, the prosecutor asked the court a series of questions about the availability of courtrooms throughout the entire court.

At about 4:15 p.m., the court interrupted the prosecutor and, after a discussion off the record, indicated that a courtroom had ...


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