The Arkansas Supreme Court has denied a Monticello man’s petition for writ of certiorari asking the Supreme Court to order the Drew County Circuit Court to grant a continuance of his capital murder trial.
In his petition, Daniel Pedraza, who faces a possible death sentence if convicted of the February 2012 beating death of his 2-year-old stepdaughter, said his attorneys need more time to prepare for trial. He acknowledged that his request is unprecedented but maintained that because of the special circumstances of this case — a complex death-penalty case that was slated for trial six months after he was afforded the benefit of counsel — the court should grant his request.
Pedraza, 24, maintained that his defense counsel needed additional time to prepare for trial due to his status as a Mexican national and the cultural and language barriers involved; the fact that the majority of his family, including his mother and father, do not speak English and live in Mexico; that the defense had been hampered by personnel issues regarding who would serve as counsel; that investigation into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a possible mitigator was hampered without access to Pedraza’s military medical records; and that the Arkansas State Crime Lab had not provided all relevant discovery to the defense.
Attached to Pedraza’s petition were several affidavits and declarations in support of granting a continuance, including a letter from the Consul General of Mexico; a declaration from a Texas criminal-defense attorney who tried death-penalty cases; an affidavit of Dr. James Walker, a clinical neuropsychologist and forensic psychologist, who stated that he had begun an evaluation of Pedraza but that his work was not yet finished and would take additional time; a declaration of another physician; and an affidavit of Alicia Amezcua-Rodriguez, a mitigation investigator with experience in capital cases involving Mexican nationals.
The Arkansas Supreme Court issued an opinion on March 14 denying Pedraza’s petition.
“Under our rules of criminal procedure, a circuit court shall grant a continuance only upon a showing of good cause and only for as long as is necessary, taking into account not only the request or consent of the prosecuting attorney or defense counsel, but also the public interest in prompt disposition of the case,” Arkansas Supreme Court Associate Justice Cliff Hoofman wrote in the opinion. “Ordinarily, when we review the denial of a continuance on appeal, we apply an abuse-of-discretion standard and require a showing of prejudice by the defendant. Moreover, when a motion to continue is based on a lack of time to prepare, we consider the totality of the circumstances. We conclude that Pedraza is not entitled to a writ of certiorari in this instance because he clearly has another adequate remedy at law, an appeal.”
While the Supreme Court denied Pedraza’s petition, it did say that it will ask the Supreme Court Committee on Criminal Practice to consider whether Arkansas Rules of Criminal Procedure should be changed in regard to requests for a continuance in death penalty cases.
Tenth Judicial District Prosecutor Thomas Deen said he will ask the Drew County Circuit Court to reset the case for trial when the Supreme Court decision becomes final. Typically, all parties are given a certain number of days to petition the Supreme Court for a rehearing. “The state prevailed so we won’t be asking for a rehearing, but (Pedraza) might,” Deen said.