Tulsa Attorney BlogDeadlines Include Weekend Days in Oklahoma Criminal Courts

Weekend Deadlines Not Extended To Monday

Oklahoma criminal court deadlines calendar day rule

Twice in 2016, five-day deadlines to appeal judicial disqualifications will be reduced to one day because of court holidays and rigid Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals opinions.

What a difference a day makes. The State missed a deadline by one day, if weekends count in criminal filing deadlines. It cost them their case.

A district court found no problem with extending a Sunday deadline until Monday. If the last day of a deadline falls on a weekend, that day doesn’t count in almost every court on Earth.

It is a very old common law thing. It is in Oklahoma rules for civil courts and for criminal appeals courts. So maybe the weekend day does not count.

Oh, yes, it counts, responded the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.

In an unpublished March 17, 2016 decision that reversed a lower court’s decision in an application to revoke a suspended sentence, Oklahoma’s top criminal court enforced a strict calendar-days doctrine for court deadlines. It was a doctrine enunciated earlier this year in an opinion that was historically contentious toward the state’s other top court – the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

The recent case involved a man charged with Possession of CDS and Domestic Abuse by Strangulation. The man already had a six-year suspended sentence hanging over him, after pleading guilty in 2009 to Shooting with Intent to Kill. Upon learning of the new charges, and with some supervision fees allegedly past due, the State filed an application to revoke his suspended sentence.

On Jan. 5, 2015, the man pleaded not guilty to the application to revoke. Oklahoma law entitles defendants to a hearing within 20 days of pleading not guilty to an application to revoke. The 20 day deadline lapsed on a Sunday. A hearing was set for the next day – Monday, Jan. 26, 2015.

At that hearing, a judge found the man had committed a new crime and revoked his suspended sentence. The appealed, saying 20 days means 20 days. He won.

Of course, knowing the criminal court’s penchant for a curiously strict calendar day doctrine, we would like to think we would have argued the same thing if the man were our client. We are defense attorneys. Congratulations to his for winning. But still, there seems to be something wrong with the way Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals is interpreting deadline rules.

The difference involves how deadlines are counted when they fall on a weekend. By the Oklahoma Pleadings Code, a deadline on a weekend or holiday is extended until the next business day.

Those rules do not apply to criminal procedures, says the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. It says the Pleadings Code applies to civil cases.

Civics 101: Oklahoma’s Bifurcated Court System

At this point, we need to recite some boilerplate Oklahoma civics. If this is your first time attending this rodeo, you need to know, Oklahoma has a rare bifurcated court system. Appeals of criminal matters go to one side, civil appeals to the other. Rarely shall the twain e’er meet.

Lately, the two sides of Oklahoma’s court system have been clashing. They are clashing often — perhaps more so than at any time during the state’s 108-year history.

The two appeals courts share the same building where, according media reports, the conflict has not disrupted cordial conduct among senior judges walking the courts’ hallways and parking lots. Instead, the meeting of mighty minds plays out in countervailing decisions.

The clash has at times involved matters of life and death – death penalties to be exact – including a stay of execution that the Oklahoma governor said carries no legal weight. The governor was prepared to execute two prisoners despite an Oklahoma Supreme Court stay.

The clash over jurisdiction lately has coalesced around court rules governing deadlines. Here is the crux of that clash.

Oklahoma court rules are scattered across titles for civil and criminal procedure. The Court of Criminal Appeals takes the scope section of the civil Pleadings Code very literally. The words are plain: the code governs procedure “in all suits of a civil nature.” Okla. Stat. tit. 12 § 2001. Simple enough. Or not.

Five sections later, the pleadings code references computations of time “by the rules of any court of this state.” Okla. Stat. tit. 12 § 2006. That is the section of the Pleadings Code that extends deadlines when they fall on a weekend. So what did the legislature have in mind when it said “any” court? Just civil courts, or “any” court?

To make matters more complicated, the civil code specifically affects some criminal procedure. Elsewhere – outside the portion of the civil-procedure title codified as the pleading code – Title 12 spells out rules for certain criminal matters, including spousal privilege – Okla. Stat. tit. 12 § 2504(B) – and hearsay evidence in child abuse cases – Okla. Stat. tit. 12 § 2803.1(A).

What’s more, within the pleadings code sections in the Civil Procedures title are rules for judicial disqualification hearings – disqualifications in civil and in criminal matters. That was the rule the two courts clashed over in 2015.

Oklahoma Courts’ Passive Aggressive Showdown

A man facing murder charges had asked a judge to step aside to avoid possible bias. The judge declined. The man’s criminal defense attorneys appealed. They appealed within four business days, but not within the five-day deadline if weekend days count. In civil court, their filing would have been timely. In criminal court, not so much.

When the criminal appeals court stood fast on its calendar-days doctrine, the man’s defense attorneys pleaded to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. That was where things got testy. When conflicts of jurisdiction occur, the Oklahoma Constitution gives the state Supreme Court the last word. The final word, maybe, if the criminal court – or the governor – will listen.

That court assumed jurisdiction in the man’s case and declared that the he was right – a five day deadline for appealing judicial disqualification does not include weekends. Although the Oklahoma Supreme Court declared its version of the rule as paramount, the criminal court would have none of that.

In a lengthy opinion, Meyer v Engle 2016 OK CR 1 explained that the criminal appeals court follows a calendar-day rule, that the legislature – in the criminal court’s view – has mandated a calendar day rule for criminal matters and, by the way, criminal-court precedent several years ago adopted the calendar-day rule. For precedent, the court cited Pitts v. State 2003 OK CR 21, where in 2003 it had stated the civil Pleading Code is not applicable to criminal cases.
To support the conclusion that that “the Legislature has adopted the calendar day method of computation of time in criminal proceedings” the criminal court cited several time limits in Oklahoma criminal statutes. Those laws use language such as “days from the date of,” “days after” and “year after,” yet none of the court’s citations include the term “calendar days.”

The Court of Criminal Appeals itself has a rule that contradicts its rigid adherence to a calendar day doctrine. The court’s Rule 1.5 – codified in the same Title 22 it cites as legislative authority for rigid calendar day computations – says deadlines are extended to the next day the Clerk’s office is open when a deadline falls on a day the Clerk’s office is closed.

State Conceded Calendar Rule in 2015

Although this recent unpublished and therefor non-precedential criminal court decision about weekend deadlines was handed down after the court’s strongly worded January 2016 precedent, the latest deadline ruling did not reference the simmering conflict between the courts. It did not need to.

The State admitted in an October, 2015 filing that it had missed the deadline. The State at that time agreed that the appeals court must reverse the trial court because the State missed a deadline. The state did not bother to argue an otherwise universally recognized weekend rule applied to its Monday filing.

There you have it. According to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, in Oklahoma criminal matters, deadlines that fall on weekends do not extend until the next Monday – if it is in a local court.

Deadlines for Oklahoma criminal courts are not counted the same as deadlines for civil courts. And they are unlike federal courts, where Rule 26(2)( C) extends weekend deadlines until the next Monday. And unlike the tax code, where tax day falls on a Monday if April 15 is on a Sunday, or a Tuesday if that Monday is a holiday – such as Emancipation Day in 2017 and 2018.

And Oklahoma’s refusal to extend criminal district court deadlines until the next business day is unlike rules of many, if not most, state courts – including California, Utah, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Washington, Alabama, Connecticut, South Carolina, Arkansas – in fact, every state we checked in a quick review. In Arkansas, a 1997 Attorney General opinion cited the next-business-day rule as arising from common law. (Arkansas Opinion No. 97-249)

This oddly rigid interpretation of bifurcated court rules means the same five-day rule for appealing judicial disqualification decisions means five business days in civil matters and five calendar days in criminal matters. Deadlines of less than 11 days include only business days in civil matters, but every day counts in criminal matters – unless a criminal statute states otherwise.

You can only hope your denial of disqualification by a district judge does not come down on the day before a two-day court holiday. You have only five days to appeal but the court will be closed four consecutive days twice in 2016.

Bifurcated Courts? What Were They Thinking?

For good measure, the criminal court in Meyer noted the civil court had not issued a writ telling the criminal court to change its decision. The civil court decision was merely declaratory. Nor, to paraphrase the criminal court’s resounding language, would the Oklahoma Supreme Court dare tell the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals how to read its own rules (or lack of rules).

Since the January, 2016 Meyer decision that defendant has gone back to the state Supreme Court asking for exactly such a writ as the criminal judges find unconscionable, to correct what he called an erroneous criminal court decision. The civil court declined.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals’ Meyer decision did say the court will review deadline rules with an eye toward reducing confusion in the state’s courts – and out of courtesy to the state’s other high court. But it has also said the legislature has established calendar days as the only factor to be considered in deadlines for criminal matters.

With this latest, unpublished decision, it said neither civil court rules, its own appeals court rules nor common law can extend a Sunday deadline to the next business day. If the legislature thinks otherwise, well, it probably needs to pass a law making that clear.

If the legislature heeds the advice of at least some Oklahoma defense attorneys, it might also consider convening a committee to at least study how the state constitution could be revised to consolidate the two courts. Legislators who launched an impeachment initiative against Supreme Court justices who stayed the criminal court’s execution order would seem likely supporters of such a study.

At a minimum, a legislative study of the history and operations of Oklahoma’s bifurcated court system might dig up answers to the big question about state framer’s decision to have two courts: what were they thinking?

Deadline Questions? Get a Free Consultation With Tulsa Ok Lawyers

If you have questions about deadlines for filing appeals, hearing deadlines or other deadline questions related to Oklahoma courts contact a Tulsa attorney at Wirth Law Office. For a free consultation with a civil or criminal attorney in Tulsa, Ok. Call 918-879-1681 or send your question using the form at the top of this page.

"Make law easy!"