Tuesday, June 6, 2006
U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Prospective Waivers Of Right to Speedy Trial Under 1974 Act
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A defendant cannot prospectively waive his right to a speedy trial under the Speedy Trial Act of 1974, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled yesterday.
The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had affirmed a conviction based on a waiver of the act. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve a disagreement among the Courts of Appeals, reversed the Second Circuit, and remand the case back.
Justice Samuel Alito Jr., writing for the court, said, “Allowing prospective waivers would seriously undermine the Act because there are many cases—like the case at hand—in which the prosecution, the defense, and the court would all be happy to opt out of the Act, to the detriment of the public interest.”
In 1996 Jacob Zedner attempted to open accounts at seven financial institutions using counterfeit $10 million U.S. bonds, the record showed. Alito noted that, “The quality of the counterfeiting was, to put it mildly, not expert.” One bond indicated that it was issued by the “Ministry of Finance of U. S. A.” On others “United States” and other names and words were misspelled.
The Secret Service was notified. Zedner was arrested and charged, and released on bond.
Prior to trial Zedner asked for a continuance. The trial court advised Zedner that it had an estimated eight-month trial coming up, and that if it began before Zedner’s trial, Zedner would have to wait for it to finish. The judge told Zedner, “I think if I’m going to give you that long an adjournment, I will have to take a waiver for all time.” Zedner’s counsel said the defense would “waive for all time. That will not be a problem. That will not be an issue in this case.”
The court then had Zedner and his attorney sign a form it apparently prepared waiving Zedner’s rights under the act “for all time.”
During the next four years a variety of proceedings occurred in the matter, but no trial. At one hearing Zedner asked for another continuance so he would have more time to investigate the authenticity of the bonds. At another his attorney asked, and was allowed, to be relieved because Zedner insisted that he argue that the bonds were genuine. At the court’s request, Zedner was examined and found to be competent to stand trial by a psychiatrist.
In 2001, while another competency determination was still under submission, Zedner moved to dismiss the case for failure to comply with the act.
The court denied the motion on the ground that Zedner had waived his right to a speedy trial “for all time.” The court also held that he was incompetent to stand trial.
After several months in the hospital, Zedner was declared to be “delusional but competent to stand trial,” and released.
In 2003, seven years after he was charged, Zedner’s trial began. A jury convicted him of six counts of attempting to defraud a financial institution. The judge sentenced him to 63 months in prison. Zedner appealed.
Alito noted that the act provides numerous detailed categories of extensions which do no count toward the 70-day period within which trial must begin.
“Instead of simply allowing defendants to opt out of the Act, the Act demands that defense continuance requests fit within one of the specific exclusions set out in subsection (h),” he said. “If a defendant could simply waive the application of the Act whenever he or she wanted more time, no defendant would ever need to put such considerations before the court” required by subsection (h).
Alito noted that the remedy for violation of the speedy trial requirement is dismissal of the action, but left it up to the trial court to determine if the dismissal should be with or without prejudice.
Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a concurring opinion in which he said that the language of the statute was clear and unambiguous, and therefore, the court should not have considered the legislative history.
The case is Zedner v. United States, 05-5992.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company