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Name: People v. Hajjaj
Case #: S175307
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 11/04/2010
Summary

“A courtroom that cannot be reached by the parties prior to the close of business is for practical and legal purposes unavailable for bringing the accused to trial.” The trial court dismissed the action because on the last day for trial the only available courtroom in Riverside County became available at 4:15, but it was 76 miles away from the main criminal courthouse where the attorneys and the defendant were present. The trial judge reasoned it was too late for the parties to travel 120 minutes to the courthouse and for the case to begin before the close of court. The Court of Appeal reversed, finding the circumstances presented good cause to continue trial until the next day. The Supreme Court agreed with the trial court and reversed the Court of Appeal. The Court rejected the argument that the defendant would have been “brought to trial” within the meaning of Penal Code section 1382 if the case had been assigned to a particular courtroom with an available judge. As explained in Rhinehart v. Municipal Court (1984) 35 Cal.3d 772, to be “brought to trial” within the meaning of the statute requires the court, the parties, and a panel of prospective jurors to be ready to proceed. This includes presence in the courtroom. It would not be enough that another prosecutor not assigned to the case could show up in the courtroom. Moreover, under the circumstances, the defendant and his attorney could not be present. Thus, for purposes of the statute, the courtroom across the county was not available for trial.
For purposes of Penal Code section 1382, geographical remoteness of the only available courtroom is not good cause for delay. The Court also rejected the argument that the remoteness of the only available courtroom presented good cause to continue the trial until the next day. As recently noted in People v. Engram (2010) __ Cal.4th __, Riverside County has a problem with chronic court congestion affecting the handling of criminal cases. The problem is attributable to the state, and is not good cause for delay. This situation is part of that problem. Court administration in large counties must take into account geography and travel time. Distance and travel time are constant factors. They are not exceptional circumstances presenting good cause for delay.