What is a Speedy Trial right? When are my “Speedy Trial Rights” violated?

Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

What is a Speedy Trial right? When are my “Speedy Trial Rights” violated? I already rote a blog addressing the Suppression in this case.  The facts are in the other blog.  However, this court also analyzed the defendant’s claims that his speed trial rights were violated and the case took too long to get to the trial judge.  This is another evaluation of that rule an the trial judge’s determination.  I am also adding the recent evaluation of the same issue from Gloucester County Law Division Judge Smith’s decision addressing the same issue.

“A defendant has a fundamental right to a speedy trial both under the United States and New Jersey Constitutions. U.S. Const. amend. VI; N.J. Const. art. 1, 10; see also Klopfer v. North Carolina, 386 U.S. 213, 222-23 (1967); see also State v. Szima, 70 N.J. 196 (1976), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 896 (1976). In order to determine whether that fundamental right has been violated, four factors are considered as outlined in Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 530 (1972). See also Szima, 70 N.J. at 201. The trial judge applied the analysis in reaching his decision denying defendant’s eleventh-hour motion to dismiss. For the reasons he stated, the issue on appeal is so lacking in merit as to not warrant further discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(2).

Judge Smith, in State v. Johnson, (which addresses excludable time under New Jersey’s recent Bail Reform Act) evaluated the speedy trial issue and found the federal Speedy Trial Act and case law an appropriate starting point for judicial review.

He opined: “Under the federal Speedy Trial Act, a defendant must be tried within seventy days from the later of the filing of the indictment or the date defendant appeared before a judicial officer. See 18 U.S.C. § 3161(c)(1). However, there are periods of excludable time which are not included in the calculation of the  seventy days within which trial must commence, including when a case is designated complex: Whether the case is so unusual or so complex, due to the number of defendants, the nature of the prosecution, or the existence of novel questions of fact or law, that it is unreasonable to expect adequate preparation for pretrial proceedings or for the trial itself within the time limits established by this section. [18 U.S.C. § 3161(h)(7)(B)(ii).] The decision that the case is complex must be based on a finding that “the ends of justice served by taking such action outweigh the best interest of the public and the defendant in a speedy trial.” 18 U.S.C. § 3161(h)(7)(A). But, “no continuance . . . shall be granted because of general congestion of the court’s calendar, or lack of diligent preparation or failure to obtain available witnesses on the part of the . . . Government.” 18 U.S.C. § 3161(h)(7)(C).

A mere conclusory statement that a case is complex, without specific findings on the record, is insufficient under 18 U.S.C. § 3161(h)(7)(B)(ii). See United States v. Perez-Reveles, 715 F.2d 1348, 1352 (9th Cir. 1983). The length of excludable time for a complex case should be reasonably related to the actual needs of the case, and should not be used as a calendar control device or a means of circumventing the requirements of the federal Speedy Trial Act. See United States v. Lo Franco, 818 F.2d 276, 277 (2d Cir. 1987). “The need for further preparation in a complex case and the likelihood that failure to grant a continuance would . . . result in a ‘miscarriage of justice’ . . . would justify an ends-of-justice continuance. 18 U.S.C. §§ 3161(h)(8)(B)(i),(ii).” United States v. Wiehoff, 748 F.2d 1158, 1160 (7th Cir. 1984).

In Perez-Reveles, the appellate court overturned the District Court’s ruling that time was excludable due to the complexity of the case, because “[n]o complex or unusual issues were raised by the Government or the defense” and the District Court made no findings to support its ruling that the case was complex. Perez-Reveles, 715 F.2d at 1352–53. However, in United States v. Thomas, 774 F.2d 807 (7th Cir. 1985), the Seventh Circuit upheld the District Court’s exclusion of time and designation of the case as complex because the record supported the District Court’s specific findings of complexity, 18 U.S.C. § 3161(h)(7)(B)(ii), i.e., there were six defendants and thousands of pages of financial documents. See Thomas, 774 F.2d at 810. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that excludable time of ninety days was appropriate as the case was complex due to ongoing investigations in two other states, voluminous discovery, numerous counts, joint defendants, and witnesses from other countries. See United States v. Lewis, 611 F.3d 1172 (9th Cir. 2010). In United States v. Gordon, the District Court’s finding that the case was complex did not violate the federal Speedy Trial Act as there was voluminous discovery, including documents detailing hundreds of financial transactions and government’s identifying hundreds of thousands of documents that needed to be catalogued and separated, so that parties could identify relevant ones. See United States v. Gordon, 710 F.3d 1124 (10th Cir. 2013). See also United States v. Astra Motor Cars, 352 F. Supp. 2d 367 (E.D.N.Y. 2005) (holding case was properly designated complex due to the volume of discovery involved with a multi-jurisdictional motor-vehicle theft ring with thousands of documents); United States v. Murray, 771 F.2d 1324, 1328 (9th Cir. 1985) (holding case complex, and thus the sixty day extension the District Court granted to indict defendant was justified, due to the potential multiplicity of defendants, cache of semi-automatic and automatic guns, and that the government pursued its investigation with reasonable diligence, having to rely on serial number traces and forensic analyses, which are time-consuming by their nature).

These are fact specific issues and each case my be evaluated on its own terms and facts to determine if the appropriate Motion must be filed with the court.

Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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