435 U.S. 850 (1978), 75-1892, United States v. MacDonald

Docket Nº:No. 75-1892
Citation:435 U.S. 850, 98 S.Ct. 1547, 56 L.Ed.2d 18
Party Name:United States v. MacDonald
Case Date:May 01, 1978
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 850

435 U.S. 850 (1978)

98 S.Ct. 1547, 56 L.Ed.2d 18

United States

v.

MacDonald

No. 75-1892

United States Supreme Court

May 1, 1978

Argued January 9, 1978

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

A defendant may not, before trial, appeal a federal district court's order denying his motion to dismiss an indictment because of an alleged violation of his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. Pp. 853-863.

531 F.2d 196, reversed and remanded.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all other Members joined except BRENNAN, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

BLACKMUN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the issue whether a defendant, before trial, may appeal a federal district court's order denying his motion to dismiss an indictment because of an alleged violation of his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial.1

I

In February, 1970, respondent Jeffrey R. MacDonald was a physician in military service stationed at Fort Bragg in

Page 851

North Carolina. He held the rank of captain in the Army Medical Corps.

Captain MacDonald's wife and their two daughters were murdered on February 17 at respondent's quarters. Respondent also [98 S.Ct. 1548] sustained injury on that occasion. The military police, the Army's Criminal Investigation Division (CID), the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Fayetteville, N.C., Police Department all immediately began investigations of the crime. On April 6, the CID informed respondent that he was under suspicion and, that same day, he was relieved of his duties and restricted to quarters. On May 1, pursuant to Art. 30 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), 10 U.S.C. § 830, the Army charged respondent with the murders. As required by Art. 32 of the UCMJ, 10 U.S.C. § 832, an investigating officer was appointed to investigate the crimes and to recommend whether the charges (three specifications of murder, in violation of Art. 118 of the UCMJ, 10 U.S.C. § 918) should be referred by the general court-martial convening authority (the post commander) to a general court-martial for trial. App. 131.

At the conclusion of the Art. 32 proceeding, the investigating officer filed a report in which he recommended that the charges against respondent be dismissed, and that the civilian authorities investigate a named female suspect. App. 136. On October 23, after review of this report, the commanding general of respondent's unit accepted the recommendation and dismissed the charges. In December, 1970, the Army granted respondent an honorable discharge for reasons of hardship.2

Following respondent's release from the military, and at the request of the Department of Justice, the CID continued its investigation. This was extensive and wide-ranging. In June, 1972, the CID submitted to the Department of Justice a 13-volume report recommending still further investigation.

Page 852

Supplemental reports were transmitted in November, 1972, and August, 1973. It was not until August ,1974, however, that the Government began the presentation of the case to a grand jury of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.3 On January 24, 1975, the grand jury indicted respondent on three counts of first-degree murder, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1111. App. 22-23. He was promptly arrested and then released on bail a week later.

On July 29, the District Court denied a number of pretrial motions submitted by respondent. Among these were a motion to dismiss the indictment on double jeopardy grounds and another to dismiss because of the denial of his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. App. to Pet. for Cert. 44a, 46a, 49a. Relying on United States v. Marion, 404 U.S. 307 (1971), the District Court concluded:

The right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment does not arise until a person has been "accused" of a crime, and, in this case, this did not occur until the indictment had been returned.

App. to Pet. for Cert. 49a. Trial was scheduled to begin in August.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit stayed the trial and allowed an interlocutory appeal on the authority of its decision in United States v. Lansdown, 460 F.2d 164 (1972). App. to Pet. for Cert. 42a. The Court of Appeals, by a divided vote, reversed the District Court's denial of respondent's motion to dismiss on speedy trial grounds and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss the indictment. 531 F.2d 196 (1976). The Government's petition for rehearing, with suggestion for rehearing en banc, was denied by an evenly divided vote. App. to Pet. for Cert. 2a.

The Court of Appeals panel majority recognized that the denial of a pretrial motion in a criminal case generally is not appealable. The court, however, offered two grounds for its assumption of jurisdiction in this particular case. It stated,

Page 853

first, that it considered respondent's speedy trial claim [98 S.Ct. 1549] to be pendent to his double jeopardy claim, the denial of which Lansdown had held to be appealable before trial. Alternatively, although conceding that "[n]ot every speedy trial claim . . . merits an interlocutory appeal," and that, "[g]enerally, this defense should be reviewed after final judgment," the court stated that it was "the extraordinary nature of MacDonald's case that persuaded us to allow an interlocutory appeal." 531 F.2d at 199.

On the merits, the majority concluded that respondent had been deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. The dissenting judge, without addressing the jurisdictional issue, concluded that respondent's right to a speedy trial had not been violated. Id. at 209.

Because of the importance of the jurisdictional question to the criminal law, we granted certiorari. 432 U.S. 905 (1977).

II

This Court frequently has considered the appealability of pretrial orders in criminal cases. See, e.g., Abney v. United States, 431 U.S. 651 (1977); DiBella v. United States, 369 U.S. 121 (1962); Parr v. United States, 351 U.S. 513 (1956); Cobbledick v. United States, 309 U.S. 323 (1940). Just last Term, the Court reiterated that interlocutory or "piecemeal" appeals are disfavored. "Finality of judgment has been required as a predicate for federal appellate jurisdiction." Abney v. United States, 431 U.S. at 656. See also DiBella v. United States, 369 U.S. at 124.

This traditional and basic principle is currently embodied in 28 U.S.C. 1291, which grants the federal courts of appeals jurisdiction to review "all final decisions of the district courts," both civil and criminal.4 The rule of finality has particular

Page 854

force in criminal prosecutions because "encouragement of delay is fatal to the vindication of the criminal law." Cobbledick v. United States, 309 U.S. at 325. See also DiBella v. United States, 369 U.S. at 126.

This Court, in criminal cases, has twice departed from the general prohibition against piecemeal appellate review. Abney v. United States, supra; Stack v. Boyle, 342 U.S. 1 (1951). In each instance, the Court relied on the final judgment rule's "collateral order" exception articulated in Cohen v. Beneficial Industrial Loan Corp., 337 U.S. 541, 545-547 (1949).

Cohen was a stockholder's derivative action in which federal jurisdiction was...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP