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Case dismissed for Speedy Trial Act violation but the defendant could still be prosecuted again


Ammar was convicted and sentenced to life following trial for robbery, conspiracy to commit robbery and using or carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence. In United States v. Ammar he challenged his conviction contending that the district court should have dismissed his indictment pursuant to the Speedy Trial Act. The Sixth Amendment of the Constitution provides that in all criminal prosecutions the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy trial. To enforce this provision Congress passed the Speedy Trial Act which provides that the trial must begin within 70 days of either the filing of the indictment or the date the defendant first appears before a judicial officer to answer the charges, whichever occurs later. If a defendant is not tried within that window of time then the district court must grant the defendant’s motion to dismiss the indictment.

A district court may grant a continuance of the trial date when the ends of justice support the continuance and the district court is required to say its reasons for finding that the ends of justice served by the granting of a continuance outweigh the best interest of the public and the defendant in a speedy trial. Furthermore a defendant’s agreement to waive the protections of the Act cannot by itself justify an ends of justice continuance because the public interest in a speedy trial is also protected by the Act.

Ammar was detained following his arrest without a bond.   Soon after the district court held a scheduling conference with the defendants and scheduled trial to begin about one year later. Ammar appealed the magistrate’s detention order contending that the district court set an extended trial date over his objection and that the extended detention pending a trial more than a year from the date of the indictment violated his due process and speedy trial rights. Prior to trial Amar filed his motion to dismiss on speedy trial grounds.

The court held that the district court violated United States v Zedner which makes clear the ends- of- justice findings must be expressly made on the record and that the parties cannot simply agree to a continuance and thus waive the Act’s 70-day requirement. The district court stated several times that it had granted the continuance because all of the parties had agreed to it thereby indicating its belief that the Speedy Trial Act could be waived. When the government repeatedly advised the district court that the continued time period could be excluded if the court simply made an express ends-of-justice finding, the court refused to declare that the ends of justice supported the continuance, repeating that the parties agreement provided a sufficient reason to justify the continuance.

Yet Defendant Ammar was not in agreement with a continuance and Zedner makes it clear that the parties cannot waive the Speedy Trial Act’s requirements. The district court’s failure to make an ends-of-justice findings on the record and its stated reason for continuance for tolling the 70 day period in which Ammar should have gone to trial was a violation of the Speedy Trial Act.

While the appellate court dismissed the federal criminal indictment, it remanded the case to the district court to decide whether the dismissal should be with or without prejudice. If the district court decides the dismissal is without prejudice, the indictment can be reinstated and Ammar can be prosecuted again. Furthermore because the defendant is usually the party requesting a continuance, this case could make it more difficult for a defendant to get a continuance harder because it must now show that the public interest in a speedy trial is not outweighed by the defendant’s interest in having the continuance.

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