Judge Selya Has Fun With Speedy Trial Appeal - U.S. First Circuit
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Judge Selya Has Fun With Speedy Trial Appeal

Frederick Gates burned through six court-appointed attorneys, filed a salmagundi* of pretrial motions, entered a guilty plea mid-trial, and then attempted to withdraw that plea. After all of that, he complains about Speedy Trial Act (STA) violations.

Sometimes, if you throw enough crap at the wall, some of it will stick and the court will be forced to address speedy trial issues of first impression. That’s not what happened here.

This week Judge Bruce Selya, our favorite First Circuit wordsmith, explained that Gates’ STA arguments just didn’t stick..

The STA provides that a trial must generally occur within 70 days of the latter of the return of the indictment or the defendant's first appearance before a judicial officer. Of course, that's not an absolute; as one would expect, certain exceptions can be made.

Gates' trial began 566 days after his indictment. Both sides stipulate that 41 days count towards the 70 day maximum. The lower court found the remaining days excluded from the total, per a series of rulings.

Two time periods are contested here: March 24, 2008 to April 11, 2008 (the time between the filing of the motion to extend the pretrial motions deadline and the filing of the first suppression motion), and February 12, 2009 to March 25, 2009 (the time between the disposition of the suppression motions and the defendant's first attorney's motion to withdraw).

Neither time period counted toward the total; both were based on defense counsel's motions for extensions of time.

Gates maintains that he wasn't advised of his speedy trial rights and did not consent to his attorney's requests for delays. The First Circuit doesn't care. The STA authorizes courts to grant continuances "at the request of the defendant or his counsel."

What's the takeaway? Client consent is not required to request a continuance or for other procedural matters. This ruling brings the First Circuit into accord with the Fourth and Third Circuits.

Of course, this doesn't mean attorneys can request delays for their own reasons and to their client's detriment. The STA requires that the court find that "the ends of justice are served" by granting a continuance, including the public and defendant's interest in a speedy trial.

You might be surprised at what constitutes and acceptable reason for defense counsel's delays. One of the approved continuances was granted for defense counsel's vacation plans. The First Circuit pointed out that "[d]efense lawyers are not automatons; they are not expected to work 365 days a year ... scheduling conflicts of either defense or government counsel were intended by Congress to be legitimate grounds for granting a continuance."

Cabo, anyone?

*Weekly Selya-ism: salmagundi: (1) a salad plate of chopped meats, anchovies, eggs, and vegetables arranged in rows for contrast and dressed with a salad dressing or (2) a heterogeneous mixture. "[The defendant] filed a salmagundi of pretrial motions."

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