Highlights from the Eleventh Circuit court of appeals

Delay in filing an indictment caused by plea negotiations is not excludable time without a specific court order stating that the ends of justice served by the delay outweigh the best interests of the public and the defendant in a speedy trial

August 16, 2012,

Charges were brought against the defendant in U.S. v. Mathurin for various armed robberies in Miami-County, but he was initially charged by information as a juvenile under the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Act. After the defendant waived his rights not to be prosecuted as an adult, the defendant and the government began plea negotiations, starting about August 27, 2009. There was dispute as to when plea negotiations actually ended, but the defendant was indicted in federal court in Miami on December 29, 2009. The charges in the indictment were identical to the charges in the juvenile information under which he had been held in custody. Eventually, the defendant went to trial and was convicted of various counts and sentenced to 492 months.

Under the Speedy Trial Act the government is required to file an indictment against the defendant within 30 days from the date of arrest. The act provides for excludable time for delay resulting from "proceedings concerning the defendant," including periods of delays from specific enumerated categories of proceedings. One of those categories of delay includes a "delay resulting from consideration by the court of a proposed plea agreement to be entered into by the defendant and the government." 18 U.S.C. §3161(h)(1)(G). The remedy for a violation of the 30-day time limitation is dismissal of the complaint.

The 11th Circuit found the 30 day clock began to run when the defendant gave his consent to be prosecuted as an adult on August 27, 2010. The government argued that the time period from August 27, 2009, through December 22, 2009, (the date of a status conference on an the plea negotiations), was all excludable time. The 11th Circuit disagreed and concluded it was not excludable time because the district court was never asked to review a proposed plea agreement during this interim period. A delay resulting from plea discussions between the government and the defendant is not automatically excludable as "proceedings concerning the defendant." For the delay to be excludable, the procedure under the Speedy Trial Act requires the district court to approve the delay by a finding that the "ends of justice served by taking such a delay outweigh the best interest of the public and the defendant in a speedy trial." 3161(h)(7)(A). While the parties may delay the filing of an indictment as long as they want, without a court order containing this language, the Speedy Trial Act is not waived. Plea negotiations do not fall under the category of events that automatically exclude delay. The 11th Circuit held that the indictment had to be dismissed because it was filed beyond the 30 day time limitation and the delay for plea negotiations was not automatically excludable time. Whether the dismissal will be with or without prejudice would be left for the district court to decide on remand. The 11th Circuit did not address this issue.

In case you missed, please read my previous entry
Tolling of the Statute of Limitations upheld under 18 U.S.C. § 3292, which allows for its suspension while the government makes an official request to a foreign country for evidence the government reasonably believes can be found in the foreign country, August 12, 2012