Thursday, March 24, 2016

Giving the Speedy Trial Act teeth rather than lip service

For defendants, the Speedy Trial Act often seems like a hollow remedy. But today's opinion in United States v. Brown suggests that the Act may have life in it yet.

The case involved two unfortunate choices: (1) leaving the defendant out of pretrial discussions regarding scheduling, and (2) scheduling trial around everyone's conflicts but the defendant's. Ultimately, the district court attempted to accommodate both trial conflicts and the Speedy Trial Act by scheduling jury selection two weeks before the trial date, with the expiration of the speedy-trial clock occurring between those two dates.

The Sixth Circuit did not approve of this "start-and-stop" approach. The court first noted that it "will not countenance maneuvers aimed at merely paying lip service to the Speedy Trial Act's requirements." It held that the court's plan violated the spirit of the Act because---over the defendant's repeated objections---"the trial court did not intend to proceed with trial at a normal pace until after the [Act's] deadline had passed." Further, certain of the scheduling conflicts were "self-created," including the "unavailability" of a key police witness who merely had to attend certain training sessions that would make his appearance more difficult.

Ultimately, the Sixth Circuit vacated the conviction and remanded for determination of whether the dismissal of the indictment should be with or without prejudice.

Judge Gilman offers an interesting dissent that agrees with the majority's interpretation of the Speedy Trial Act, but disagrees that the defendant appropriately objected to the delay.

1 comment:

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