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Dismiss a Case Because of a Speedy Trial Act Violation? Not so fast.

The Speedy Trial Act is an odd thing. Normally, a person charged with a federal crime – be it a white-collar crime or a drug distribution charge – has spent less time looking at the government’s evidence than the government. Often, a defendant is going to want more time to prepare for trial than the 70 days provided by the Speedy Trial Act, at 18 U.S.C. 3161. (Though not always, Senator Ted Stevens didn’t seek more time and that worked out well for him.)

That said, normally the government wants more time too. And, for that matter, the trial court often wants more time. That’s likely less the case in, say, the Eastern District of Virginia, but in a number of federal courts around the country – especially as the pace of judicial confirmations slows – the trial judge is hoping that a trial isn’t going to happen 70 days into the case as much as anyone.

As a result, in many cases there winds up being a conspiracy between the government, the court, and, sometimes, the defendant to defeat the Speedy Trial Act.

The Act excludes any time that a motion is pending during the 70 day time. So, normally, the defendant files a motion to suppress evidence, or, quixotically, to dismiss the indictment, and that stops the Speedy Trial Clock.

This gets tricky, however, because if the Speedy Trial Act is not complied with, the Act requires that the indictment gets dismissed – though more on that later. So a defendant both wants to stop the clock, and benefit from the clock not being stopped.

In the Eight Circuit’s recent opinion in Bloate v. United States, the court of appeals addressed an interesting Speedy Trial Act issue.

Mr. Bloate was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison. He filed a motion to dismiss the indictment under the Speedy Trial Act. It was denied. He appealed, complaining about the Speedy Trial Act. His appeal lost. He went to the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court held that the Eighth Circuit should not have denied his Speedy Trial Act claim for the reason it did. The Court remanded for the Eighth Circuit to take a mulligan on the Speedy Trial Question.

Here’s the timeline for Speedy Trial Analysis – Mr. Bloate was indicted on August 24. His motions were due on September 13. On September 7, he filed a motion for more time that the court granted the same day. On September 25, Mr. Bloate filed something with the court called a “Waiver of Pretrial Motions” – it indicated that he wasn’t going to file any pretrial motions (it was well named).

On October 4, the district court had a hearing, where it asked Mr. Bloate if he understood he could file motions and was deciding not to on purpose – this is, whether the waiver was knowing and voluntary. It was, and nothing happened until the government filed motions on February 23 of the next year, which stopped the clock.

There are more than 70 days between August 24 and February 23.

The Supreme Court looked at this timeline and was called to resolve whether the time Mr. Bloate had to prepare pretrial motions, from when the scheduling order issued on August 24 until the court’s hearing on October 4 was excludable. In an opinion by Justice Thomas, the Court concluded that it isn’t.*

The Eight Circuit then had the case on remand to see if filing a “Waiver of Pretrial Motions” counts as a pretrial motion. If it does, the time while it was pending would be excluded. The Eighth Circuit walks through a number of reasons why it isn’t (in the same way that a waiver of a right to a trial is not a trial). The court of appeals concludes that a “Waiver of Pretrial Motions” is not a pretrial motion.

But, just when you thought Mr. Bloate was going home and avoiding 30 years in prison, the Eighth Circuit directed the district court to decide whether Mr. Bloate’s indictment should be dismissed with prejudice or without – basically whether the government could just seek a new indictment to bring charges against Mr. Bloate anew.

What do you think the district court will decide?

 

* Justice Thomas’s originalism has been the subject of a lot of attention lately, thanks largely to Jeffrey Tobin’s piece in the New Yorker. This opinion looks like a kind consequence of originalism – you stick with what the words actually mean, even if they make prosecuting people harder.