Second Circuit Finds Another “Speedy Trial” Violation–the Third Such Violation in Two Years–in the Western District of New York

Case Name: United States v. Black

Date of Opinion: March 18, 2019

Opinion by: Judge ­­­­­Pooler (majority); Judge Cote (dissent)


The Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal of charges against two criminal defendants after finding their Sixth Amendment Speedy Trial right had been violated. The Court noted that this decision marks the third time in two years that a criminal defendant’s right to speedy trial was violated in the Western District of New York.

Defendants-appellees were indicted on March 6, 2012, and charged with one count of Hobbs Act conspiracy. On March 7, 2012, prosecutors informed the district court that the case against Defendants might become eligible for capital prosecution. Two years and nine months later, the prosecution filed a superseding indictment that added new charges and accused the Defendants of an entirely new crime. A decision whether to seek the death penalty had not yet been made with regard to the initial crime when the prosecution filed the new charges. On January 13, 2015— two years and ten months after the government informed Defendants that they could potentially face capital prosecution—the government decided that it would not seek the death penalty. It took another two years and ten months before the government brought the Defendants to trial; in sum, Defendants waited sixty-eight months for a trial. The District Court granted Defendants’ pre-trial motion to dismiss based on speedy trial grounds, and the government appealed.

The Second Circuit affirmed the District Court’s dismissal of the charges based on finding a significant portion of the delays attributable to the government. Specifically, it attributed delays to the government based on its delayed decision to seek the death penalty, protracted litigation over missing evidence, its decision to file the superseding indictment on the eve of expiration of the state of limitations, and the government’s failure to produce witnesses at court hearings. Overall, it found Defendants had “endured an extraordinary sixty-eight-month delay, suffered anxiety occasioned by the government’s nearly three-year deliberation over whether to argue that they should be sentenced to death, and repeatedly requested a speedy trial.”

In her dissent, Judge Cote wrote that the Blockburger test should be used to determine when the Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial attaches. The Supreme Court has used such a test to determine when a violation of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel in connection with one criminal charge is fatal to the prosecution of another. According to Judge Cote, if the new charge is a separate offense under Blockburger, then the right to a speedy trial attaches at the time of the superseding indictment including that charge is filed. The majority rejected this approach, holding that a speedy trial claim runs from the first indictment or arrest to trial. In so doing, the Court agreed with sister circuits in declining to apply the dissent’s suggested Blockburger analysis to calculate the relevant delay for a speedy trial violation where a superseding indictment is filed. In finding the Blockburger test inapplicable, the Second Circuit distinguished the substantive differences between the two Sixth Amendment protections; whereas the right to counsel exists to protect defendants in adversarial, “trial-type confrontations,” the speedy trial right “exists primarily to protect an individual’s liberty interest.”

Summary Prepared By: Amanda Brody

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