United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
OPINION AND ORDER
H. THOMPSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
cause is before the court on the parties' joint oral
motion to continue, made on-the-record on April 16, 2018. For
the reasons set forth below, the court finds that jury
selection and trial, now set for April 16, 2018, should be
continued pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3161(h)(7).
the granting of a continuance is left to the sound discretion
of the trial judge, see United States v.
Stitzer, 785 F.2d 1506, 1516 (11th Cir. 1986), the court
is limited by the requirements of the Speedy Trial Act, 18
U.S.C. § 3161. The Act provides in part:
“In any case in which a plea of not guilty is entered,
the trial of a defendant charged in an information or
indictment with the commission of an offense shall commence
within seventy days from the filing date (and making public)
of the information or indictment, or from the date the
defendant has appeared before a judicial officer of the court
in which such charge is pending, whichever date last
§ 3161(c)(1). The Act excludes from the 70-day period
any continuance based on “findings that the ends of
justice served by taking such action outweigh the best
interest of the public and the defendant in a speedy
trial.” § 3161(h)(7)(A). In granting such a
continuance, the court may consider, among other factors,
whether the failure to grant the continuance would
“result in a miscarriage of justice, ” §
3161(h)(7)(B)(i), or “would deny counsel for the
defendant ... reasonable time necessary for effective
preparation, taking into account the exercise of due
diligence.” § 3161(h)(7)(B)(iv).
court concludes that, in this case, the ends of justice
served by granting a continuance outweigh the interest of the
public and McNeal in a speedy trial.
in this case, McNeal was found incompetent to stand trial and
sent to the Federal Medical Center, Butner, North Carolina
for competency restoration therapy. see United States v.
McNeal, No. 2:15cr199-MHT, 2016 WL 756570 (M.D. Ala.
Feb. 26, 2016) (Thompson, J.). After his return to local
custody, however, he decompensated--apparently due, at least
in part, to his inability to receive at a local jail facility
his psychotropic medications as prescribed--and was sent for
a second time to the Butner facility for restoration. See
United States v. McNeal, No. 2:15cr199-MHT, 2017 WL
2399578 (M.D. Ala. June 2, 2017) (Thompson, J.. The
psychiatric report prepared by Butner clinicians indicated
that, among other issues, McNeal suffers from unspecified
psychotic disorder and borderline intellectual functioning.
See Psychiatric Report (doc. no. 106) at 3. When
McNeal returned to local custody for a second time and after
the court this time found him mentally competent, see
United States v. McNeal, No. 2:15CR199-MHT, 2018 WL
706488 (M.D. Ala. Feb. 2018) (Thompson, J.), the court, given
his prior decompensation, specifically ordered that he was to
be placed in another local facility, the Lee County Jail, in
which he was to be able to receive his medications as
prescribed, see Opinion and Order (doc. no. 122).
After representations that he might not be receiving his
medications as prescribed while at the Lee County Jail, the
parties were further ordered to review his medication logs
and ensure he was properly receiving his medication,
see Order (doc. no. 134).
April 16, 2018, prior to the beginning of jury selection, the
court inquired of counsel for the parties whether they had
any concerns regarding McNeal's receipt of medication and
his current competency to stand trial. Counsel for McNeal
indicated that, although there is a possibility that he
refused his medication on certain occasions, McNeal had also
missed pills on multiple other occasions because the
medication had not been offered by the jail; the government
represented that, based upon the records it had received from
Lee County Jail, as well as those it had not received, it
could not be sure as to what medication he received in the
days leading up to the trial. Moreover, defense counsel
informed the court that McNeal stated to counsel last week,
and on a separate occasion to the Lee County Jail
psychologist, that he had been ‘hearing voices'
telling him to harm himself. In addition, the parties both
stated that McNeal has been held in “lockdown” or
solitary confinement for 22 or 23 hours per day, at least
five days per week if not more, for approximately
one-and-a-half months. This court has previously found that
extended isolation of prisoners in conditions of solitary
confinement poses a substantial risk of psychological harm
and decompensation, and that this risk is especially
heightened for prisoners suffering from mental illness.
See Braggs v. Dunn, 257 F.Supp.3d 1171, 1236-38
(M.D. Ala. 2017) (Thompson, J.). In light of these
circumstances, counsel for the parties and the court harbored
serious concerns regarding McNeal's current and continued
competency to stand trial, and counsel for the parties
jointly moved on-the-record to continue the trial.
Accordingly, a continuance is warranted in the interests of
justice to allow counsel for the parties' time to
determine whether McNeal remains competent to stand trial,
and what conditions of confinement and treatment may be
necessary from now until the time of his sentencing or
acquittal to ensure that he does not again decompensate.
it is ORDERED as follows:
(1) The joint oral motion to continue (doc. no. 167), made
on-the-record on April 16, 2018, is granted.
(2) The jury selection and trial, now set for April 16, 2018,
are reset for August 6, 2018, at 10:00 a.m., in Courtroom
2FMJ of the Frank M. Johnson Jr. United States Courthouse