STRUNK, AKA WAGNER v. UNITED STATES
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT
Argued April 24, 1973
Decided June 11, 1973
Petitioner was convicted of a federal offense and was sentenced to a term of five years, to run concurrently with a sentence of one to three years that he was serving pursuant to a state-court conviction. Before trial, the District Court denied his motion to dismiss the federal charge on the ground that he had been denied a speedy trial. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that he had been denied a speedy trial, but that the "extreme" remedy of dismissal of the charges was not warranted. The case was remanded to the District Court to reduce the sentence by 259 days, to compensate for the unnecessary delay that had occurred between the return of the indictment and petitioner's arraignment. The Government did not file a cross-petition for certiorari challenging the finding of denial of a speedy trial. Held: In this case, the only question for review is the propriety of the remedy fashioned by the Court of Appeals. In light of the policies underlying the right to a speedy trial, dismissal must remain, as noted in Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 522 , "the only possible remedy" for deprivation of this constitutional right. Pp. 435-440.
467 F.2d 969, reversed and remanded.
BURGER, C. J., wrote the opinion for a unanimous Court.
John R. Wideikis argued the cause and filed a brief for petitioner pro hac vice.
William Bradford Reynolds argued the cause for the United States. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Griswold, Assistant Attorney General Petersen, and Jerome M. Feit.
Opinion of the Court by MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER, announced by MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS.
Petitioner was found guilty in United States District Court of transporting a stolen automobile from [412 U.S. 434, 435] Wisconsin to Illinois in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2312 and was sentenced to a term of five years. The five-year sentence was to run concurrently with a sentence of one to three years that petitioner was then serving in the Nebraska State Penitentiary pursuant to a conviction in the courts of that State.
Prior to trial, the District Court denied a motion to dismiss the federal charge, in which petitioner argued that he had been denied his right to a speedy trial. At trial, petitioner called no witnesses and did not take the stand; the jury returned a verdict of guilty. The Court of Appeals reversed the District Court, holding that petitioner had in fact been denied a speedy trial. However, the court went on to hold that the "extreme" remedy of dismissal of the charges was not warranted; the case was remanded to the District Court to reduce petitioner's sentence to the extent of 259 days in order to compensate for the unnecessary delay which had occurred between return of the indictment and petitioner's arraignment.
Certiorari was granted on petitioner's claim that, once a judicial determination has been made that an accused has been denied a speedy trial, the only remedy available to the court is "to reverse the conviction, vacate the sentence, and dismiss the indictment." No cross-petition was filed by the Government to review the determination of the Court of Appeals that the defendant had been denied a speedy trial. The Government acknowledges that, in its present posture, the case presents a novel and unresolved issue, not controlled by any prior decisions of this Court.
The Court of Appeals stated that the 10-month delay which occurred was "unusual and call[ed] for explanation as well as justification," 467 F.2d 969, 972. The Government [412 U.S. 434, 436] responded that petitioner had, after receiving the proper warnings, freely admitted his guilt to an FBI agent while incarcerated in the Nebraska Penitentiary, and had stated that he intended to demand a speedy trial under Fed. Rule Crim. Proc. 20. The Government claimed that it had postponed prosecution because of petitioner's reference to Rule 20, and consequently, that a large portion of the delay which ensued was attributable to petitioner. The Court of Appeals regarded this explanation as tenuous; it also rejected the lack of staff personnel in the United States Attorney's Office as a justification for the delay. The entire course of events from the time of arrest through the Court of Appeals plainly placed the Government on notice that the speedy trial issue was being preserved by the accused and would be pressed, as indeed it has been.
On this record, it seems clear that petitioner was responsible for a large part of the 10-month delay which occurred and that he neither showed nor claimed that the preparation of his defense was prejudiced by reason of the delay. It may also well be correct that the United States Attorney was understaffed due to insufficient appropriations and, consequently, was unable to provide an organization capable of dealing with the rising caseload in his office, especially with respect to criminal cases. Unintentional delays caused by overcrowded court dockets or understaffed prosecutors are among the factors to be weighed less heavily than intentional delay, calculated to hamper the defense, in determining whether the Sixth Amendment has been violated but, as we noted in Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 531 (1972), they must
Turning to the remaining question of the power of the Court of Appeals to fashion what it appeared to consider as a "practical" remedy, we note that the court clearly perceived that the accused had an interest in being tried promptly, even though he was confined in a penitentiary for an unrelated charge. Under these circumstances,
The Government's reliance on Barker to support the remedy fashioned by the Court of Appeals is further undermined when we examine the Court's opinion in that case as a whole. It is true that Barker described dismissal of an indictment for denial of a speedy trial as an "unsatisfactorily severe remedy." Indeed, in practice, "it means that a defendant who may be guilty of a serious crime will go free, without having been tried." 407 U.S., at 522 . But such severe remedies are not unique in the application of constitutional standards. [412 U.S. 434, 440] In light of the policies which underlie the right to a speedy trial, dismissal must remain, as Barker noted, "the only possible remedy." Ibid.
Given the unchallenged determination that petitioner was denied a speedy trial, 3 the District Court judgment of conviction must be set aside; the judgment is therefore reversed and the case remanded to the Court of Appeals to direct the District Court to set aside its judgment, vacate the sentence, and dismiss the indictment.
[ Footnote 2 ] It can also be said that an accused released pending trial often has little or no interest in being tried quickly; but this, standing alone, does not alter the prosecutor's obligation to see to it that the case is brought on for trial. The desires or convenience of individuals cannot be controlling. The public interest in a broad sense, as well as the constitutional guarantee, commands prompt disposition of criminal charges.