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Five Years of Inaction Leads to Dismissal of Case Due to Violation of Right to Speedy Trial


In United States v.Velazquez, No 12-3992 (3d. Cir. April 14, 2014), the Third Circuit reversed the district court’s decision to deny Velazquez’s motion to dismiss based on a violation of his right to a speedy trial.
 
After investigating Velazquez on narcotics charges, the DEA attempted to find him at the address of one of his associates, but he was not there.  The DEA declared Velazquez a fugitive, leaving his apprehension to the United States Marshalls Service, where Degan was assigned to the case.  In November 2005, Degan transferred.  Between November 2005 and November 2010, authorities only checked NCIC eight times to find out whether any law enforcement agencies encountered Velazquez.  The DEA included him on the “Most Wanted” section of the website for the local DEA office.  The DEA renewed the search for Velazquez in November 2010.  In December 2011, he was arrested on an unrelated narcotics charge and extradited to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. 

Velazquez filed a motion to dismiss the indictment based on a speedy-trial violation.  The district court denied the motion finding that the government acted reasonably diligent in pursuing him.  Velazquez pleaded guilty conditionally, reserving his right to appeal the speedy trial issue, and was sentenced to 80 months in prison followed by five years of supervised release.

On appeal, the Third Circuit applied the test from Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (1972), using four factors to determine whether there was a violation of Velazquez’s right to a speedy trial:  (1) the length of the delay before the trial, (2) the reason for the delay, including a consideration of whether the government was to blame, (3) the extent to which the defendant asserted his right to a speedy trial and (4) the amount of prejudice suffered by the defendant. 

The Third Circuit found the length of time of the delay, nearly seven years between indictment and trial, was sufficient to trigger an inquiry into the other factors.  Once the existence of a delay was shown, the government had the burden of justifying the delay, which the government in this case failed to do.

The government asserted that Velazquez caused the delay in trial, arguing that his lack of verifiable employment history, his receiving mail at a post office box, and his ability to avoid apprehension until his arrest on unrelated charges indicates his deliberate attempt to conceal his whereabouts.  However, the Third Circuit found that the delay, and particularly the five years of inaction, demonstrates the government’s failure to make a “serious effort” to apprehend Velazquez, thereby causing the delay.

The Third Circuit held that asserting the right to a speedy trial after arrest, when Velazquez discovered the indictment against him, is considered a timely assertion of the right and weighs in favor of Velazquez.

The extraordinary length of delay in this case led to a presumption of general prejudice against the defendant, which the government failed to overcome. 

The Third Circuit found the district court’s determination that the government utilized reasonable diligence to find Velazquez was clearly erroneous.  For this reason, the Third Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment and remanded for the purpose of dismissing the indictment against Velazquez with prejudice. 

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