Wednesday, February 05, 2014

STA Violation Cannot Be Reviewed for Plain Error

US v. Mosteller: Mosteller collected VA benefits as a surviving spouse and to pursue an education following the death of her first husband.  She did not inform the VA when she remarried and did not maintain the educational status needed to continue to receive those benefits.  She was originally charged with one count of theft of government funds - specifically, the surviving spouse benefits after she had remarried.  However, at trial Government witnesses made reference to the education funds as well, causing Mosteller to move for a mistrial.  The district court agreed to grant the mistrial, but only on the condition that Mosteller waive her rights under the Speedy Trial Act.  She did, a mistrial was granted, and the Government obtained a superseding indictment with an additional charge of theft related to the education funds.  A second trial was held beyond the STA's 70-day limit, but Mosteller did not object.  She was convicted on both counts and sentenced to 15 month in prison.

On appeal, Mosteller filed a pro se supplemental brief (to an Anders brief by counsel) alleging that her STA rights had been violated by the district court conditioning the mistrial on her waiver of any STA claim.  The Fourth Circuit agreed that the district court acted improperly by conditioning the mistrial on a STA waiver.  However, because Mosteller did not object under the STA at the second trial, the STA's waiver provision prevented the court from actually reaching the issue, even under a plain error standard of review (as a Sixth Amendment speedy trial claim would have been).

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