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The Sixth Circuit Gives The Sixth Amendment’s Speedy Trial Right Teeth

It has been a good year for defendants and the Interstate Agreement on Detainers.

A few months ago, the First Circuit held that the government cannot request a writ from a district court to bring a person in state custody to federal custody if they have already requested the person’s transfer under the Interstate Agreement on Detainers – after the governor of the state told them that he was denying the federal request.

1328506_hourglass_.jpgNow, the Sixth Circuit* orders that an indictment be dismissed with prejudice under the Sixth Amendment’s Speedy Trial guarantee because the government botched a request under the Interstate Agreement on Detainers. The case is United States v. Ferreira.

Mr. Ferreira was detained in a state institution in Bartow County, Georgia on September 13, 2005. That very same day he was indicted in federal court in Tennessee for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine.

The federal prosecutor asked the district court for a writ directing Mr. Ferreira to be brought to federal court on October 19.

On October 12, the government brought a superseding indictment against Mr. Ferreira and, again, requested a writ for his appearance on October 21. On October 21, the district court granted the requested writ. (it isn’t clear what happened with the October 12 writ request).

Though, earlier, the U.S. Marshals service told the U.S. Attorney’s Office that Mr. Ferreira had been moved to facilities in Cobb County, Georgia (“Low on taxes, Big on business”). The U.S. Attorney’s Office “misplaced” this notification. The writ was directed to Bartow County.

Though the opinion doesn’t say it, one can presume that Bartow County did just about exactly nothing when given a writ for a person who was not in their custody.

The U.S. Marshals service lodged detainers on Mr. Ferreira.

Time passed.

Two years later, on September 6, 2007, Mr. Ferreira filed a motion for appointment of counsel and asked for a Speedy Trial.

More time passed.

In July 2008, Mr. Ferreira filed, on his own, a motion to dismiss the indictment for speedy trial violations.**

Later that month, the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed another request for a writ to have him brought to federal court. This one was successful – he was brought, received a lawyer, and his lawyer moved to dismiss the indictment. The government conceded that it did not comply with the Interstate Agreement on Detainers.

Happily, the district court granted the motion to dismiss. Unhappily for Mr. Ferreira, it did so without prejudice – meaning he could be reindicted.

He was, and pled guilty with the ability to raise the Speedy Trial issues.

The Sixth Circuit found that Mr. Ferreira’s constitutional Speedy Trial rights were violated. Some of the reasons caused no trouble for the court – the court of appeals found that he clearly wanted a speedy trial, the government’s conduct in delaying when he came into federal court was the result of gross negligence, and the delay was meaningful.

The only real question was whether Mr. Ferreira was prejudiced. Here, the court of appeals found that his ability to develop a defense was compromised without him having to articulate a specific way in which that ability suffered.

The court held that:

He argues on appeal, as he did in the district court, that the passage of time generally impaired his defense by causing the evidence to go stale. The Sixth Circuit has recognized that “extreme” delays may, on their own, “give rise to a strong presumption of evidentiary . . . “When a defendant is unable to articulate the harm caused by delay, the reason for the delay . . . will be used to determine whether the defendant was presumptively prejudiced.” United States v. Mundt, 29 F.3d 233, 236 (6th Cir. 1994). Where the delay has been caused by negligence, “our toleration of such negligence varies inversely with its protractedness.” Doggett, 505 U.S. at 657.

Thus, even though Mr. Ferreira was unable to point to a particular thing that would have been better for his defense if he’d been brought into federal court sooner, because the delay was caused by the government and was lengthy, he didn’t have to.

* The only Circuit without an RSS feed for its opinions.

** A detainer can seriously mess someone in custody up. They lose the right to many privileges and programs in custody, including an ability to get work release or even early release. Folks in prison have a many legitimate reasons to want to get out from under a detainer.