Iowa high court allows trial without defendant present

February 11, 2022 GMT

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The Iowa Supreme Court said Friday that certain criminal trials may be held without the defendant present if it appears the person charged is intentionally trying to cause unreasonable delays.

The court ruled in the case of Randall Hurlbut, who was arrested in Le Mars in August 2017 after eluding a police officer who attempted to stop him after he was noticed behaving erratically. He was charged with driving while intoxicated after a urine sample tested positive for methamphetamine.

Court documents indicate he was a difficult client and fired two lawyers and had his trial, which was originally scheduled for August 2018, delayed three times to February 2020. His third court-appointed lawyer represented him at trial but Hurlbut didn’t show up, telling his lawyer he had been confused about the date and that he didn’t have a ride.

The trial judge decided to hold the trial without him. He was convicted by a jury and sentenced to jail.

ADVERTISEMENT

Hurlbut appealed, saying the judge violated his due process rights and his constitutional right to confront his accuser — a right contained in federal and state constitutions and Iowa court rules. The state Supreme Court found that, when warranted, trials may occur without the defendant present.

“A defendant’s right to attend trial, weighty as it is, doesn’t supply him some attendant power to turn trial scheduling orders into empty suggestions that he may ignore without consequence whenever he feels the urge,” wrote Justice Matthew McDermott for the court.

Hurlbut’s attorney did not immediately respond to a message.

Justice Brent Appel agreed with the other six justices but wrote his own opinion critical of the judge for not holding a fact-finding hearing to determine whether Hurlbut’s reason for absence was legitimate.

Appel agreed, however, that Hurlbut had an opportunity at a later hearing to present his case and reasons for his absence but failed to so he lost his opportunity for a new hearing on the issue.