Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Under The Speedy Trial Act, The Trial Clock Remains Tolled In The Time Period Between a Competency Evaluation and a Court's Final Determination of Competency.

    In a matter of first impression, the Third Circuit held that the time statutorily excludable under the Speedy Trial Act (18 U.S.C. §3161(h)(1)(A)) for a competency evaluation extends past the actual examination and continues until the court has made a final determination concerning a defendant’s competency.  U.S. v. Graves, No. 12-2688,  (3d Cir. June 21, 2013)

    Appellant Lee Graves was arraigned on March 2, 2011 on one count of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §841and §846.  At the arraignment hearing, held on March 31, 2011, a magistrate judge ordered a competency evaluation pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §4241(b).   Although the trial had been scheduled to start on June 3, 2011, the Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) did not complete an evaluation report until June 22, 2011.  The report was mailed on June 28, 2011 and received, at the earliest, by the court on July 7, 2011.  A status hearing was held on September 21, 2011, during which the District Court found Graves competent to stand trial.  At that same hearing, newly-appointed defense counsel moved for a continuance to prepare for trial.      

    A few weeks after that hearing, Graves claimed a Speedy Trial violation.  He argued that more than 70 inexcuable days had passed since his indictment without a trial.  Specifically,  Graves argued that the excludable delay for the competency review ended when the report was sent to the court, while the Government argued that the clock remained tolled until the official ruling on his competency, which did not occur until the status hearing several months later.  The District Court found no violation. 
    The Third Circuit affirmed, finding that the language in the Act, relevant to delays for mental competency, contemplated excusing the entire evaluation proceedings, not just the actual examination.  The circuit court explained that the examination and resulting report constituted just one step in the process.  A trial court must still review the report and relevant evidence to determine if a defendant is fit to stand trial.  Also, in reaching this decision, the appellate court noted that the Act does not place a limit on the length of delays for a competency proceeding.  Therefore, the Third Circuit held that the clock remains tolled even after an evaluation report is submitted to the court, until a formal ruling on competency is entered by that court.
     Accordingly, the excluded delay included the time period from the day the evaluation was ordered (March 31) until the day the court entered the order finding Graves competent to stand trial (September 21).  Additionally, the Third Circuit also found that a new period of excusable delay began when the defense requested a continuance at the same September status hearing.  Thus, in this case, the only days that counted against the Speedy Trial clock was the period between the March 2 indictment and the March 31 order for a competency evaluation, totaling 28 days.  Therefore, there was no violation of Graves’s rights under the Speedy Trial Act.

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