404 U.S. 307 (1971), 70-19, United States v. Marion

Docket Nº:No. 70-19
Citation:404 U.S. 307, 92 S.Ct. 455, 30 L.Ed.2d 468
Party Name:United States v. Marion
Case Date:December 20, 1971
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 307

404 U.S. 307 (1971)

92 S.Ct. 455, 30 L.Ed.2d 468

United States



No. 70-19

United States Supreme Court

Dec. 20, 1971

Argued November 8, 1971




Appellees, claiming that the Government had known of the crimes with which they were charged, the circumstances of the crimes, and appellees' identities for over three years before they were indicted, moved to dismiss on the ground that the indictment was returned "an unreasonably oppressive and unjustifiable time after the alleged offenses," and that the delay deprived them of rights to due process of law and a speedy trial as secured by the Fifth and Sixth Amendments. While asserting no specific prejudice, appellees contended that the indictment required memory of many specific acts and conversations occurring several years before and that the delay was due to the prosecutor's negligence or indifference in investigating the case and presenting it to the grand jury. The District Court, after a hearing, granted appellees' motion [92 S.Ct. 457] and dismissed the indictment for "lack of speedy prosecution," having found that the defense was "bound to have been seriously prejudiced" by the three-year delay. The Government took a direct appeal to this Court, which postponed consideration of the question of jurisdiction until the hearing on the merits.


1. The motion to dismiss the indictment for lack of a speedy trial was in the nature of a confession and avoidance, and constituted a motion in bar by appellees who had not been placed in jeopardy when the District Court entered its order of dismissal. That order was therefore directly appealable to this Court under former 18 U.S.C. § 3731. Pp. 311-312.

2. The Sixth Amendment's guarantee of a speedy trial is applicable only after a person has been "accused" of a crime, which in this case did not occur until appellees (who had not previously been arrested or otherwise charged) were indicted. Pp. 313-320.

3. The relevant statute of limitations provides a safeguard against possible prejudice resulting from pre-accusation delay, and here appellees were indicted within the applicable limitations period. Pp. 320-323.

Page 308

4. Though the Due Process Clause may provide a basis for dismissing an indictment if the defense can how at trial that prosecutorial delay has prejudiced the right to a fair trial, appellees have not claimed or proved actual prejudice resulting from the delay, and their due process claims are therefore speculative and premature. Pp. 325-326.


WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART and BLACKMUN JJ., joined. DOUGLAS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the result, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 326.

WHITE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

This appeal requires us to decide whether dismissal of a federal indictment was constitutionally required by reason of a period of three years between the occurrence of the alleged criminal acts and the filing of the indictment.

On April 21, 1970, the two appellees were indicted and charged in 19 counts with operating a business known as Allied Enterprises, Inc., which was engaged in the business of selling and installing home improvements such as intercom sets, fire control devices, and burglary detection systems. Allegedly, the business was fraudulently

Page 309

conducted and involved misrepresentations, alterations of documents, and deliberate nonperformance of contracts. The period covered by the indictment was March 15, 1965, to February 6, 1967; the earliest specific act alleged occurred on September 3, 1965, the latest on January 19, 1966.

On May 5, 1970, appellees filed a motion to dismiss the indictment

for failure to commence prosecution of the alleged offenses charged therein within such time as to afford [them their] rights to due process of law and to a speedy trial under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States.

No evidence was submitted, but, from the motion itself and the arguments of counsel at the hearing on the motion, it appears that Allied Enterprises had been subject to a Federal Trade Commission cease and desist order on February 6, 1967, and that a series of articles appeared in the Washington Post in October, 1967, reporting the results of that newspaper's investigation of practices employed by home improvement firms such as Allied. The articles also contained purported statements of the then United States Attorney for the District of Columbia describing his office's investigation of these firms and predicting that indictments would soon be forthcoming. Although the statements attributed to the [92 S.Ct. 458] United States Attorney did not mention Allied specifically, that company was mentioned in the course of the newspaper stories. In the summer of 1968, at the request of the United States Attorney's office, Allied delivered certain of its records to that office, and, in an interview there, appellee Marion discussed his conduct as an officer of Allied Enterprises. The grand jury that indicted appellees was not impaneled until September, 1969, appellees were not informed of the grand jury's concern with them until March, 1970, and the indictment was finally handed down in April.

Page 310

Appellees moved to dismiss because the indictment was returned "an unreasonably oppressive and unjustifiable time after the alleged offenses." They argued that the indictment required memory of many specific acts and conversations occurring several years before, and they contended that the delay was due to the negligence or indifference of the United States Attorney in investigating the case and presenting it to a grand jury. No specific prejudice was claimed or demonstrated. The District Court judge dismissed the indictment for "lack of speedy prosecution" at the conclusion of the hearing, and remarked that, since the Government must have become aware of the relevant facts in 1967, the defense of the case

is bound to have been seriously prejudiced by the delay of at least some three years in bringing the prosecution that should have been brought in 1967, or, at the very latest, early 1968.1

Page 311

The United States appealed directly to this Court pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3731 (1964 ed., Supp. V).2 We postponed consideration of the question of [92 S.Ct. 459] jurisdiction until the hearing on the merits of the case.3 We now hold that the Court has jurisdiction, and on the merits we reverse the judgment of the District Court.


Prior to its recent amendment, 18 U.S.C. § 3731 (1964 ed., Supp. V) authorized an appeal to this Court

Page 312

by the United States when, in any criminal case, a district court sustained "a motion in bar, when the defendant has not been put in jeopardy." It is plain to us that the appeal of the United States is within the purview of this section. Appellees had not been placed in jeopardy when the District Court rendered its judgment. The trial judge based his ruling on undue delay prior to indictment, a matter that was beyond the power of the Government to cure since reindictment would not have been permissible under such a ruling. The motion to dismiss rested on grounds that had nothing to do with guilt or innocence or the truth of the allegations in the indictment, but was, rather, a plea in the nature of confession and avoidance, that is, where the defendant does not deny that he has committed the acts alleged and that the acts were a crime, but instead pleads that he cannot be prosecuted because of some extraneous factor, such as the running of the statute of limitations or the denial of a speedy trial. See United States v. Weller, 401 U.S. 254, 260 (1971). The motion rested on constitutional grounds exclusively, and neither the motion, the arguments of counsel, the Court's oral opinion, nor its judgment mentioned Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 48(b), as a ground for dismissal.4 Our jurisdiction to hear this appeal has been satisfactorily established.

Page 313


Appellees do not claim that the Sixth Amendment was violated by the two-month delay between the return of the indictment and its dismissal. Instead, they claim that their rights to a speedy trial were violated by the period of approximately three years between the end of the criminal scheme charged and the return of the indictment; it is argued that this delay is so substantial and inherently prejudicial that the Sixth Amendment required the dismissal of the indictment. In our view, however, the Sixth Amendment speedy trial provision has no application until the putative defendant in some way becomes an "accused," an event that occurred in this case only when the appellees were indicted on April 21, 1970.

The Sixth Amendment provides that, "[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial. . . ." On its face, the protection of the Amendment is activated only when a criminal prosecution has begun, and extends only to those persons who have been "accused" in the course of that prosecution. These provisions would seem to afford no protection to those not yet accused, nor would they seem to require the Government to discover, investigate, and accuse any person within any particular period of time. The Amendment would appear to guarantee to a criminal defendant that the Government will move with the dispatch that is appropriate to assure him an early and proper disposition of the charges against him. "[T]he essential ingredient is orderly expedition, and not mere speed." Smith v. United States, 360 U.S. 1, 10 (1959).

[92 S.Ct. 460]...

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