Published on:

The Eleventh Circuit Vacates Based On A Speedy Trial Act Violation

James Mathurin had a hard adolescence.

As a seventeen-year old, he went on a five-month crime spree in Miami involving armed robberies and carjackings.

Finally, he was arrested when the police suspected that he had carjacked an Acura. He told the police about how he’d spent the past few months. The state law enforcement authorities investigated and corroborated a lot of what he said.

1373852_clock_02.jpgIt seemed that Mr. Mathurin was in a hurry to grow up. Happily for Mr. Mathurin, the federal government was not in enough of a hurry to charge him with a crime – the Eleventh Circuit reversed his conviction for a violation of the Speedy Trial Act in United States v. Mathurin.

The Federal Case

Never one to pass up an easy prosecution, the federal government got involved in Mr. Mathurin’s activities. Mr. Mathurin was charged in a juvenile information in federal court in Miami. They asked to prosecute him as an adult.

On August 27, 2009, the federal district court entered an order letting the government proceed against him as an adult.

The government and Mr. Mathurin’s lawyer started plea negotiations. At a status conference on December 22, 2009, it became clear that Mr. Mathurin was not interested in a guilty plea.

He was indicted by a federal grand jury on December 29, 2009.

Ultimately, he was tried and convicted of many of the charges. He was sentenced to 492 months. For those of you not used to dividing by twelve numbers in excess of 360, that’s 41 years in prison.

The Speedy Trial Act

The federal Speedy Trial Act – at 18 U.S.C. § 3161 – has a number of requirements. One of them is that if a person is arrested or charged by any charging document other than an indictment in federal court, then the person has to be indicted by a grand jury within 30 days – or have the charges dismissed – or the indictment violates the Speedy Trial Act.

Of course, this is the law – there are exceptions to this requirement that are set out at section 3161(h).

One of these exceptions is for “[a]ny period of delay resulting from other proceedings concerning the defendant, including but not limited to . . . delay resulting from consideration by the court of a proposed plea agreement to be entered into by the defendant and the attorney for the government.”

The Government Did Not Stop Time

The Eleventh Circuit determined that the 30-day Speedy Trial clock started when the district court ordered that Mr. Mathurin could be tried as an adult, on August 27, 2009.

It is, of course, more than thirty days from August 27, 2009 to December 22, 2009.

The government argued that much of that time they were in plea negotiations, so that time should be excluded under the Speedy Trial Act. The government’s view is that the period during which the parties are participating in plea negotiations count as a “period of delay resulting from other proceedings concerning the defendant, including but not limited to . . . delay resulting from consideration by the court of a proposed plea agreement to be entered into by the defendant and the attorney for the government.”

Of course, plea negotiations often don’t involve the judge – much less the court’s consideration of a proposed plea agreement. And the plea negotiations didn’t in Mr. Mathurin’s case.

Indeed, as the Eleventh Circuit held that “insofar as the District Court was never asked to review a proposed plea agreement during the relevant period,” the Speedy Trial clock was not properly tolled as a result of “other proceedings” involving the defendant.

The Eleventh Circuit went out of its way to say that it had to strictly construe the language of the Speedy Trial Act in the wake of Bloate v. United States – an opinion by Justice Thomas that called for strictly hewing to the language of the Speedy Trial Act.

The Other Way To Stop Time

Of course, there is another way to stop the Speedy Trial clock – if the government had asked the district court to find that the time should be excluded because it meets the ends of justice – and complied with the significant procedural requirements discussed by the Supreme Court in United States v. Zedner – it likely could have excluded this time.

But it didn’t. And, as a result, Mr. Mathurin’s convictions were vacated and the case was remanded with instructions to dismiss the indictment.

The district court judge gets to decide if the indictment is dismissed with prejudice or without. So don’t look for notice of Mr. Mathurin’s coming home party too soon.