Dispute over man’s speedy trial rights now before the Colorado Supreme Court
EAGLE — It’s been an unprecedented year to try cases before a jury. And a dispute about whether charges against a man should be dismissed after a court in Eagle County allegedly did not meet his right to a speedy trial is apparently now a question before Colorado’s Supreme Court.
George Brown, 32, has faced felony charges of burglary and sexual assault, as well as two misdemeanor counts of unlawful sexual contact, since February 2019. He pleaded not guilty to the charges in October of that year, according to court records.
According to a police affidavit, prosecutors allege Brown was one of seven people living in a house in EagleVail when he entered a woman’s separate room while she and a visiting female friend were intoxicated and sleeping in bed, got into the bed, and sexually assaulted the two women during the night.
Brown’s case was reportedly set for trial in October 2020, but delayed because of pandemic precautions, the ongoing murder trial of Leigha Ackerson, and an inability of the court to host more than one jury trial at the time.
Brown’s defense attorney, James Fahrenholtz, said he and his client agreed to reset the trial for Jan. 4 of this year, arguing it would be the last possible date for prosecutors to try Brown’s case based on his speedy trial rights.
Leading up to that date, pandemic restrictions preventing new jury trials took effect and remained in place in the 5th Judicial District, criminal and civil dockets switched between two judges, and the case was taken off the docket for Jan. 4, then put on the docket for Jan. 7, according to Fahrenholtz.
Fahrenholtz filed a motion to have the criminal charges against Brown dismissed, based on the speedy trial issue. That motion has since been restricted to court personnel, according to the clerk of courts.
The motion to dismiss was taken up by Eagle County District Court Judge Reed Owens on Jan. 7. According to court records, Owens denied Fahrenholtz’s motion to have the charges dismissed. He also declared a mistrial, due to the ongoing inability to hold a jury trial because of the still-in-effect pandemic restrictions — which can provide up to 90 additional days to hold a trial — and reset Brown’s trial to early March.
But that was all allegedly done after Brown’s trial date of Jan. 4 had already arrived and passed.
Fahrenholtz worked with an appeals specialist who filed a rule 21 motion asking the Colorado Supreme Court to consider the case, which it has apparently agreed to do.
On March 11, the justices issued a “rule to show cause,” asking the district court and prosecutors to explain why the district court did not err in declaring a mistrial rather than dismissing the case for violation of Brown’s speedy trial rights.
5th Judicial District Attorney Heidi McCollum declined to comment on the pending matter. She and the district court have until April 8 to reply to the Supreme Court’s request; the defense will then have another 21 days to reply after that.
That could set the stage for a possible opinion from the Colorado Supreme Court, potentially even around the same time that Brown is now scheduled to stand trial — in early May.
Tom Lotshaw can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.