Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Speedy Trial Violations Doom Pot Prosecution

US v. Henry: The Henrys (husband and wife) were indicted on multiple charges related to growing marijuana on November 3, 2004. A trial date was originally set on July 7, 2005, but both parties requested a continuance, noting that the Henrys had already prospectively waived their speedy trial rights. The motion was granted and proceedings continued until March 24, 2006, when the court learned that plea negotiations had broken down. Trial was set for July 5, 2006. At the March 24 hearing, Mr. Henry complained that the case had "dragged on for two years." Before the trial date rolled around, the Supreme Court handed down Zedner, in which it held that defendants could not prospectively waive speedy trial rights.

At a pretrial motions hearing on June 27, 2006, the district court brought up the Zedner issue sua sponte. After concluding that the Henrys' speedy trial rights waivers were invalid, the district court nonetheless concluded that the continuances granted on July 7, 2005 and March 24, 2006 satisfied the "ends of justice" criteria for being excluded from speedy trial calculations, the first to facilitate plea negotiations and the second because the need for proper trial preparation outweighed interests in a speedy trial. The district court acted on its memory of the March 24 hearing, without reference to a transcript. Nonetheless, the Henrys moved to dismiss the indictment due to speedy trial violations. The district court denied the motion, the Henrys pleaded guilty, and were sentenced to 60 months in prison.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court. Reviewing the entirety of the record, including a transcript of the March 24 hearing, the court concluded that the district court in granting the continuance relied upon the Henrys' waivers of their speedy trial rights. Under Zedner, those waivers were now invalid. Critically, at the March 24 hearing the district court did not consider whether the ends of justice supported a continuance, as Zedner now requires. The court remanded with orders to dismiss, but left it to the district court to decide whether to do so with prejudice.

Congrats to the Northern WV FPD office on the win!

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