Monday, February 27, 2006

3d Cir rejects Speedy Trial challenge

The Third Circuit recently addressed a number of issues in United States v. Willaman, No. 05-1336 (3d Cir. Feb. 17, 2006). Willaman appealed his 18 U.S.C. § 922 conviction based on, among other things, the Second Amendment and the Speedy Trial Act. The Third Circuit quickly disposed of the Second Amendment argument, relying on United States v. Rybar, 103 F.3d 273 (3d Cir. 1996).

Next, the Court addressed Willaman’s speedy trial challenge. The Court noted that the Speedy Trial Act requires that a defendant pleading not guilty be tried within 70 days of either the filing date of the indictment or "the date the defendant has appeared before a judicial officer . . ., whichever date last occurs." Willaman was indicted on May 11, 2004. He then appeared before a magistrate for a detention hearing on May 12, 2004 and pleaded not guilty at his arraignment on May 17, 2004. Based upon dictum in United States v. Carrasquillo, 667 F.2d 382 (3d Cir. 1981), the Court decided that Willaman’s speedy trial clock began to run on the date of his arraignment, May 17, 2004, despite his appearance before a magistrate on May 12, 2004.

Thus, if the defendant is arrested before indictment, his pre-indictment physical appearance is sufficient to qualify as an appearance "before a judicial officer," thereby making the relevant speedy trial date the date of the indictment. However, if the defendant is indicted before he is arrested, his appearance in court is insufficient to start the clock for speedy trial purposes, unless and until he pleads not guilty to the offense.

The Court was satisfied that a distinction was justified because the Speedy Trial Act only applies to defendants that have pleaded not guilty. Therefore, a first appearance post-indictment does not qualify because the defendant has not pleaded not guilty yet. On the other hand, at a pre-indictment appearance, the defendant could not plead not guilty because he has yet to be charged. Thus, in that case, the indictment will trigger the Speedy Trial clock.

Due to the above rule, Willaman lost his speedy trial challenge because his trial, excluding the days needed to dispose of his pretrial motions, commenced 68 days after his arraignment.

Willaman also challenged both his statements to police and physical evidence under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. The Court held that Willaman was informed twice that he was free to leave and was therefore not subject to custodial interrogation. The Court held that Willaman was not in custody during the interrogation or during his turning over physical evidence despite the interrogating officer’s conduct, including his comment that they "could do it the hard way or the easy way," and his showing Willaman a newspaper photo depicting a police raid.

Finally, the Court also rejected Willaman’s challenge of the indictment’s sufficiency. The Court held that a grand jury foreman’s failure to sign the indictment, though required by FRCP 6(c), is merely a technical deficiency, and thus does not warrant a dismissal.

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