Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Court Rules 26-Year Prosecution Delay Unconstitutional
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A delay of over a quarter of a century in bringing a defendant to trial violated his constitutional right to a speedy trial, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday, even though the delay initially resulted from the defendant leaving the state.
Justice Richard D. Huffman characterized the “prejudicial and unjustified” preaccusation delay as “remarkable” in his decision for Div. One, affirming San Diego Superior Court Charles R. Gill’s order dismissing the attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon charges against Gregory Mirenda.
Mirenda was involved in an altercation with his roommate in 1981, which ended with Mirenda shooting the other man in the chest. After a brief investigation, the San Diego district attorney filed charges against Mirenda and obtained a warrant for his arrest but Mirenda was not apprehended until August of the following year.
He was arrested on the outstanding warrant in Pennsylvania and waived extradition, but prosecutors declined to extradite him because they could not locate the victim. Mirenda was released from custody on the fugitive warrant nine days later.
In 2007, Mirenda applied for Social Security disability benefits in Arizona and was informed that he needed to clear a California warrant for his arrest. He then contacted the Office of the Public Defender of San Diego to inquire about the warrant.
A paralegal with that office contacted the District Attorney’s Office and was advised that Mirenda had been arrested on an outstanding warrant in 1981, then released, and that the warrant had been changed from “no extradition” to “California Only.”
After this phone call, the District Attorney’s Office located the roomate and resumed the prosecution of Mirenda. Mirenda was arrested in Arizona and extradited to California in October 2007.
He subsequently filed a motion to dismiss all charges against him, arguing that he was prejudiced by the dimming of witnesses’ memories, death or disappearance and the loss or destruction of material physical evidence during the 26-year delay.
The trial judge said he was “very concerned about the period of time and the apparent lack of effort on the part of the People to track down Mr. Mirenda after they had him in custody pursuant to the warrant“ in 1982 and granted the motion to dismiss.
Writing for the appellate court, Huffman remarked that the Social Security Administration was apparently able to quickly establish the existence of the California warrant, presumably from Mirenda’s Social Security number, in rejecting the state’s claim that the prosecutorial delay was justified by Mirenda’s flight from California.
After 1982, Huffman noted the state provided “no justification at all” for the delay in prosecution and did not attempt to locate either Mirenda or his victim in the following 25 years.
“The lack of any justification for the delay in this case after 1982 tips the balance in favor of finding a violation of Mirenda’s constitutional due process and speedy trial rights and supports the trial court’s decision to dismiss the prosecution against him based on preaccusation delay,” Huffman concluded.
As the delay was lengthy and the prejudice to Mirenda arose from “the death of important witnesses, the irreparable fading of memory and the complete inability to mount a defense,” Huffman, joined by Justices Gilbert Nares and Joan Irion, ruled that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing the prosecution pretrial—rather than waiting until after trial to determine the extent of the prejudice—or by declining to fashion an alternate remedy.
The case is People v. Mirenda, 09 S.O.S. 3669.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company