Sunday, October 14th, 2012

Bail Doubt

United States v. Briggs, No. 12-2988-cr (2d Cir. October 5, 2012) (Calabresi, Carney, CJJ)

Antonio Briggs, charged in a large, multi-defendant drug conspiracy, was ordered detained in September of 2010, and remains in jail today. In this appeal, he claimed that this lengthy pretrial detention deprived him of due process. 

The circuit, although clearly concerned with the length of the delay, held that there was as yet no due process violation. However, the court directed that the district court either commence his trial, or set reasonable bail for him, on or before February 1, 2013.

The circuit noted that the reasons cited by the district court for detaining Briggs in the first instance were sound: it was a presumption case, and both Briggs’ sentencing exposure and the strength of the government’s evidence supported the initial detention order. And here, much of the two-plus-year-delay, although not necessarily Briggs’ fault, resulted from “repeated motions,” many of which Briggs joined, and abundant discovery. 

There is no “bright-line limit on the length of pretrial detention.” Due process requires a balancing among several factors: the length of the detention,  the complexity of the case, and the degree to which the government is responsible for the delay.  Here, the district court weighed these factors correctly and concluded that the “totality of the circumstances” did not support a finding that Briggs’ due process rights had been violated.

The circuit agreed, but “emphasize[d] that we are deeply troubled by the length of Briggs’ detention.” The appellate court’s “repeated statements” in other cases that the length of the detention alone “is not dispositive does not authorize “detnetions of any length simply because the other relevant factors weigh against the defendant.” Even though there is no “bright-line limit,” there is indeed a limit, and here Briggs’ case is “approaching the limits of what due process can tolerate.” Thus, as noted above, the court ordered the district court to either start the trial or set bail conditions by February 1, 2013.

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