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United States v. Reed

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

February 20, 2018




         This matter is before the Court on the defendant's motion to dismiss. (Doc. 92-1). The parties have filed briefs in support of their respective positions, (Docs. 92-2, 101), [1] and the motion is ripe for resolution.

         The defendant was indicted on December 28, 2016. (Doc. 1). An arrest warrant was issued the same day. (Doc. 5). The defendant was arrested on or about November 27, 2017. (Doc. 78 at 2). Trial was originally set for February 2018, (Doc. 83 at 1), but was moved to March 2018 on the defendant's motion. (Docs. 103, 104). The defendant argues that this post-indictment delay violates his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial.

         “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial ….” U.S. Const. amend. VI. The “unsatisfactorily severe remedy … when the right has been deprived” is “dismissal of the indictment.” Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 522 (1972). To evaluate whether the constitutional right to a speedy trial has been infringed, the Supreme Court has adopted “a balancing test, in which the conduct of both the prosecution and the defendant are weighed.” Id. at 530. The test consists of four factors: “[l]ength of delay, the reason for the delay, the defendant's assertion of his right, and prejudice to the defendant.” Id.

         The first factor serves as a gatekeeper. “Until there is some delay which is presumptively prejudicial, there is no necessity for inquiry into the other factors that go into the balance.” Barker, 407 U.S. at 530. “A delay becomes ‘presumptively prejudicial' [for purposes of the first factor] as it approaches one year.” United States v. Knight, 562 F.3d 1314, 1323 (11th Cir. 2009). The government argues the defendant cannot satisfy this threshold measure because he was arrested eleventh months after his indictment. (Doc. 101 at 2). Arrest, however, does not cut off a defendant's right to a speedy trial; rather, “[t]he Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial attaches at the time of arrest or indictment, whichever comes first, and continues until the date of trial.” Id. (internal quotes omitted). From the defendant's indictment until his trial as now scheduled is over 14 months; because that period exceeds one year, the Court assumes the delay is sufficiently long to satisfy the first factor and enable the defendant to proceed to the others.

         The second factor is “the reason the government assigns to justify the delay.” Barker, 407 U.S. at 531. “A deliberate attempt to delay the trial in order to hamper the defense should be weighted heavily against the government, but “[a] more neutral reason such as negligence … should be weighted less heavily but nevertheless should be considered since the ultimate responsibility for such circumstances must rest with the government rather than with the defendant.” Id. The parties agree that the government's failure to arrest the defendant (who at all times was living at a known address in Mississippi) promptly was due to the government's negligence. (Doc. 92-2 at 5-6; Doc. 101 at 3).

         The third factor addresses whether and when the defendant asserted his right to a speedy trial. The government does not dispute the defendant's position that he was ignorant of the indictment (which was sealed) until his arrest. (Doc. 92-2 at 5). The defendant was arraigned, and counsel appointed, on December 21, 2017, (Docs. 81, 83), and the defendant filed the instant motion on January 10, 2018. The government does not effectively dispute the defendant's position that he invoked his Sixth Amendment rights with sufficient rapidity for this factor to favor him.[2]

         The fourth factor considers the prejudice resulting to the defendant due to the delay in his trial. “Prejudice, of course, should be assessed in the light of the interests of defendants which the speedy trial right was designed to protect.” Barker, 407 U.S. at 532. These include: “to prevent oppressive pretrial incarceration”; “to minimize the anxiety and concern of the accused”; and “to limit the possibility that the defense will be impaired.” Id. Because the defendant remained free prior to his arrest, and because he was unaware that he had been indicted, the first two sorts of prejudice are not in play. Doggett v. United States, 505 U.S. 647, 654 (1992).

         The defendant does not claim that he has suffered actual prejudice, in the form of an impaired defense (such as dead or missing witnesses, failing memories and so forth). Instead, he argues that the delay in this case was so “long” and so “groundless” that prejudice must be presumed. (Doc. 92-2 at 6). The cases on which he relies, however, involved post-accusation delays of almost a decade. Although government negligence causing prejudice will support the Sixth Amendment remedy of dismissal, “such is the nature of the prejudice presumed that the weight we assign to official negligence compounds over time as the presumption of evidentiary prejudice grows. Thus, our toleration of such negligence varies inversely with its protractedness.” Doggett, 505 U.S. at 657. Which means that, “to warrant granting relief, negligence unaccompanied by particularized trial prejudice must have lasted longer than negligence demonstrably causing such prejudice.” Id.

         As noted, the time between the defendant's indictment and his trial will be between 14 and 15 months. In United States v. Clark, 83 F.3d 1350 (11 Cir. 1996), the time between indictment and arrest (not trial) was over 17 months. Id. at 1352. The Eleventh Circuit held that this time gap, the result of the government's negligence, was insufficient to excuse the defendant from demonstrating actual prejudice. Id. at 1354. The panel also “agree[d] with the [Ninth Circuit] that a 14/4-month delay caused by government negligence is insufficient to excuse a defendant from making such a showing.” Id. The government relies on Clark, and the defendant offers no reason it should not govern. Because the defendant relies exclusively on presumed prejudice when he is required to show actual prejudice, his motion must fail.[3]

         For the reasons set forth above, the defendant's motion to dismiss is denied.

         DONE and ORDERED.


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