Where a trial delay was caused by several factors beyond the government’s control, including COVID-19, defendant’s medical problems and a weather-related travel delay, and the defendant showed no resulting prejudice, his motion to dismiss the indictment on speedy trial grounds was denied.
This matter is before the court on Francis David Sherman Sr.’s motion to dismiss indictment for violating the right to a speedy trial and pursuant to Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure 4, 5, 9 and 48. On May 19, 2022, the court denied such motions at the conclusion of a hearing. This memorandum opinion sets forth the court’s reasons for its decision.
Under the Sixth Amendment, criminal defendants have the “right to a speedy and public trial.” There is no bright-line rule to determine how fast or slow constitutes “speedy.” Instead, courts must balance four factors: “(1) whether the delay was uncommonly long; (2) what the reason was for the delay; (3) whether the defendant asserted his right to a speedy trial; and (4) whether prejudice resulted to the defendant.”
As a general rule, an eight-month delay is presumptively prejudicial. Defendant argues that for Sixth Amendment analysis, the length of the delay should be measured from August 2021 and, thus, eight months passed before he filed the present motions. The government contends that the length of the delay should start when the arrest warrant was served on the defendant, which was on Dec. 13, 2021.
The length of the delay should be measured from the date the detainer was filed: Aug. 13, 2021. At that point, an indictment and arrest warrant had already been filed. There is thus a presumptively prejudicial delay.
The government provides several justifications for the delay: (1) his prior prison sentence; (2) understaffing of the Florida office of the United States Marshal Service; (3) COVID-19; (4) defendant’s medical problems and (5) a weather-related travel delay. The reasons for delay “should be characterized as either valid, improper, or neutral.”
The court finds that defendant’s prior federal sentence is a valid reason for the delay. Next, administrative difficulties are considered to be neutral reasons for delay and are construed against the government, although less harshly than an improper reason. Third, COVID-19 is a valid reason for a portion of the delay in this case as well. Fourth, delays resulting from a defendant’s medical condition do not weigh against the government. Fifth, the portion of the delay attributable to the flight being canceled due to inclement weather does not weigh against the government.
The court must weigh the “frequency and force” of a defendant’s assertion of his or her right to a speedy trial. Here, defendant repeatedly asserted his right to a speedy trial. Thus, this factor weighs in his favor.
There is no prejudice to defendant’s case. While the delay may have resulted in the loss of his legal files, those documents related to his speedy trial claim and not the underlying offenses. There has been no showing that the delay has harmed his defense against the charges brought against him in the indictment. As such, this factor weighs against defendant.
Speedy Trial Act
The Speedy Trial Act must be analyzed separately from the Sixth Amendment claim. The parties disagree on whether the federal magistrate judge in Florida should be considered a “a judicial officer of the court in which such charge is pending.” Courts throughout the country have held that a defendant appearing before a magistrate judge outside of the charging district does not start the 70-day speedy trial period.
The court concurs with these courts. As such, the speedy trial period began on March 9, 2022, when defendant had his initial appearance in this district. Thus, only 33 days had transpired between the beginning of the speedy trial period and the filing of the instant motions. As such, the act has not been violated.
Considering that the delay did not result in prejudice to defendant’s case and that the delay was the result of the compounding of several understandable delays, there was no unnecessary delay under the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. As such, the court declines to exercise its discretion to dismiss the indictment.
Defendant’s motion to dismiss the indictment denied.
United States v. Sherman, Case No. 4:21-cr-51, June 13, 2022. EDVA at Newport News (Young). VLW 022-3-252. 15 pp.