Saturday, March 09, 2019

Excludable time for competency determination under STA does not automatically include delay for transportation beyond ten days; delay in transport found unreasonable and therefore not excludable.

On January 28, 2014, Williams was charged by information with federal and VI firearms offenses.  Prior to arraignment, Williams's counsel filed a motion for a hearing to determine Williams’s mental competency pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4241(a).  The Government subsequently filed its own motion for a hearing to determine competency.  On June 11, 2014.  The court ordered that Williams be transported to the Federal Medical Center in Butner.  The following day—June 12, 2014—a grand jury returned an Indictment.  On June 18, 2014, Williams was arraigned with respect to the charges contained in the Indictment.

Although the order was issued on June 11, 2014, Williams did not arrive at FMC Butner until July 29, 2014.  On November 6, 2014, following receipt of the report from Butner, the court entered an order committing Williams to the custody of the United States Attorney General pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4241(d).  On October 9, 2015, following another hearing, Williams was deemed competent and the court indicated that it would set a date for trial.  Following a period of inactivity, on December 2, 2015, the Government ended a fifty-three-day lapse in activity by filing a motion in limine. 

On December 18, 2015, Williams filed a motion to dismiss the Indictment (the “First Motion to Dismiss”), based on the the Speedy Trial Act.   What ensued were more filings and lengthy periods of inaction during which the District Court took no further action with respect to Williams's First Motion to Dismiss.  On July 15, 2016, Williams filed a second motion to dismiss the Indictment.  After nearly three months of further inaction, Williams filed a writ of mandamus in the Circuit.  This prompted the district court, on October 24, 2016, to set a trial date.  On October 26, 2016, the District Court, in an order that did not include written reasons, denied Williams's Second Motion to Dismiss and denied Williams's First Motion to Dismiss as moot.

Williams subsequently pleaded guilty to one count of possessing a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school zone, but reserved the right to appeal the speedy trial violation.  The District Court sentenced Williams to a term of “time served” and a one-year period of supervised release.

Relevant to this decision is only the period of transport from June 11, 2014 to July 29, 2014, and the interaction of two Speedy Trial Act provisions which exclude from the 70-day clock: (1) delay resulting from any proceeding, including examinations, to determine mental competency, § 3161(h)(1)(F), and (2) delay resulting from transportation to and from places of examination, “except that any time consumed in excess of ten days from the date an order ... directing such transportation, and the defendant's arrival at the destination shall be presumed to be unreasonable.” See § 3161(h)(1)(F).

Here the government conceded that at least fifty-three days had elapsed from the seventy-day speedy trial clock.  The issue then was whether, or to what extent, the time between  June 11, 2014—when the District Court ordered that Williams be transported to FMC Butner to undergo a psychological examination—and July 29, 2014—when Williams arrived at FMC Butner—was excludable for purposes of the seventy-day speedy trial clock.

The Circuit held first that periods of unreasonable delay of more than ten days in the transport of a defendant to the site of a psychological examination are non-excludable, regardless of the fact that they occur within the period of excludable delay under § 3161(h)(1)(A), which begins when a party moves for, or the court sua sponte orders, a competency determination and continues at least until a competency hearing is held.  This is because “to exclude any and all periods of delay in transporting a defendant to the site of a psychological examination—regardless of whether such delay is in excess of ten days and otherwise unreasonable—would read section 3161(h)(1)(F) out of the statute.” 

Next, the Court turned to the extent to which the period of delay in transporting Williams to FMC Butner was excludable.   The district court entered its order for transport for a psychological examination on June 11, 2014, thus the period through June 21, 2014—ten days—was automatically excludable.  See 18 U.S.C. § 3161(h)(1)(F).  The extra thirty-seven-day period between June 21, 2014, and July 29, 2014, when Williams arrived at FMC Butner, was deemed to be presumptively unreasonable and, therefore, presumptively non-excludable.  The Court found further that the explanation for the delay—that the Marshals Service did not receive the order until July 9, 2014, attributable only to negligence on the part of the government or the district court—to be “patently unreasonable and non-excludable.”  Given this finding, a total of ninety days of non-excludable time had elapsed prior to the commencement of a trial, and Williams's rights under the Speedy Trial Act were violated.

Finally, the district court had sentenced Williams, who had been detained for over three-and-a-half years, to “time served.”  Williams had also completed his one-year term of supervised release.  Thus, no purpose would be served by retrying Williams, and dismissal without prejudice in this case would be contrary to the administration of justice.  The Court remanded to the District Court with instructions to dismiss the Indictment with prejudice.

United States v. Williams, No. 17-3422 (March 5, 2019)

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