Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

A Promising Speedy Trial Decision

Today the Second Circuit upheld the dismissal with prejudice of two drug-related counts on constitutional speedy trial grounds. In U.S. v. Pennick, the government appealed a Western District judge’s order dismissing these counts after a six-and-a-half year delay between when the defendant was charged and when his trial began. Reviewing for abuse of discretion, the Circuit rejected the government’s challenge. The summary order, available here, is particularly valuable to practitioners seeking to raise speedy trial claims that are messy, but nonetheless meritorious.

The Circuit held that the district court appropriately balanced the four factors established in Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (1972), to assess whether a constitutional speedy trial violation has occurred. These factors are: (1) the length of the delay before the defendant was brought to trial, (2) the reason for the delay, (3) whether the defendant asserted his speedy trial right in advance of the trial, and (4) whether the delay resulted in prejudice to the defendant. With respect to the prejudice factor, the district court appropriately gave “heavy weight to the psychological and social anxiety resulting from fifty-four months of pretrial detention and twenty-five months of home incarceration.” Slip op. at 6.

Notably, the Barker factors did not cut entirely in the defendant’s favor in this case. As to the second factor, the district court found that some of the delay was attributable to the defendant. As to the third, the district court recognized that the defendant’s submissions “were somewhat inconsistent with a serious and urgent desire for a speedy trial.” Id. at 3. Notwithstanding these considerations, the Circuit upheld the district court’s decision “in light of the extraordinary length of time that has elapsed since Pennick was charged and arrested.” Id. at 5. This holding is laudable in light of Supreme Court’s recognition in Barker that “[t]here is a societal interest in providing a speedy trial which exists separate from, and at times in opposition to, the interests of the accused.” 407 U.S. at 519.

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