Dickey v. Florida

Decision Date25 May 1970
Docket NumberNo. 728,728
Citation398 U.S. 30,90 S.Ct. 1564,26 L.Ed.2d 26
PartiesRobert Dean DICKEY, Petitioner, v. State of FLORIDA
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

John D. Buchanan, Jr., Tallahassee, Fla., for petitioner.

George R. Georgieff, Tallahassee, Fla., for respondent.

Mr. Chief Justice BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted the writ in this case to consider the petitioner's claim that he had been denied his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial: he was tried in 1968 on charges of alleged criminal acts committed in 1960.

Prior to the commencement of his jury trial in 1968 for armed robbery petitioner, Robert Dickey, moved to quash the information against him, alleging, inter alia, that if he were tried he would be denied his right to a speedy trial, as guaranteed by § 11 of the Declaration of Rights of the Florida Constitution, F.S.A.1 and the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution.2 The motion was denied. Dickey was subsequently tried and convicted. He appealed to the Florida District Court of Appeal, First District, alleging error in the trial court's denial of his motion to quash. The Court of Appeal affirmed the conviction in a brief order. 215 So.2d 772 (1968). We granted Dickey leave to proceed in forma pauperis and granted his petition for a writ of certiorari. 396 U.S. 816, 90 S.Ct. 109, 24 L.Ed.2d 68 (1969). We reverse.


At about 2 o'clock in the morning of June 28, 1960, Clark's Motor Court in Quincy, Gadsden County, Florida, was robbed by a lone armed robber. The victim and only eyewitness was Mrs. Ralph Clark. She immediately reported the crime to Deputy County Sheriff Martin and gave a description of the robber to him; this description was routinely recorded for later reference. Shortly thereafter, Dickey was taken into custody on federal bank robbery charges and placed in the Jackson County Jail, Marianna, Florida. Apparently the description Mrs. Clark had given Deputy Martin was sufficiently similar to Dickey that on July 1, 1960, he showed Mrs. Clark a picture of Dickey. Mrs. Clark and Deputy Martin then went to the Jackson County Jail where she identified Dickey as her assailant. Later that day Deputy Martin secured an arrest warrant charging Dickey with armed robbery.3

From July 1, 1960, to September 2, 1960, Dickey remained in the Jackson County Jail. The Gadsden County Sheriff's Office knew of his whereabouts but made no effort to serve the warrant or gain custody for the purpose of trial. On September 2, 1960, Dickey, having been convicted on federal charges, was removed from Florida, first to Leavenworth and then Alcatraz. On the same day, the Gadsden County warrant was sent to the Chief United States Marshal, Atlanta, Georgia, and a formal detainer was lodged against Dickey.

In 1962 Dickey filed in the Gadsden County Circuit Court a petition styled 'writ of habeas corpus ad prosequendum' naming the State Attorney for Gadsden County as respondent and asking that he be required to show cause why he should not be ordered to either take the steps necessary to obtain Dickey's presence in Florida for trial or withdraw the detainer for failure to provide Dickey with a speedy trial, as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. The Circuit Court, in an order dated December 1, 1962, denied the petition on several grounds: first, that Dickey's unavailability for trial in Florida was the result of his voluntary commission of a federal crime, the natural consequence of which was incarceration in a federal penal institution; second, that the speedy-trial issue was prematurely raised because only at the time of trial can a determination be made as to whether the delay has made a fair trial impossible; third, that even if the denial of an immediate trial was violative of Dickey's Sixth Amendment rights, it was a deprivation caused wholly by the federal officials having custody of his person, and any relief had to flow from those authorities.

Dickey filed papers raising substantially the same contentions on two later occasions, April 1, 1963, and March 28, 1966. The Circuit Court denied both petitions, simply citing the prior denial dated December 1, 1962.

Dickey next petitioned the Supreme Court of Florida to issue a writ of mandamus ordering the Circuit Court to either secure his return for trial or withdraw the detainer against him. The Circuit Court judge filed as a return the orders of December 1962, April 1963, and April 1966. Thereafter the Attorney General of Florida filed a brief in opposition arguing that Dickey should not be heard to complain that he had not received a speedy trial in Gadsden County because his unavailability was caused by the voluntary commission of criminal acts. Counsel was appointed for Dickey and the Florida Supreme Court heard argument on the petition for mandamus.

The Florida Supreme Court rejected the State's claim that a person incarcerated for one crime has no right to demand his constitutionally guaranteed right to a speedy trial on another charge. Dickey v. Circuit Court, 200 So.2d 521 (1967). The court held that incarceration does not make the accused unavailable since there have long been means by which one jurisdiction, for the purpose of a criminal trial, can obtain custody of a prisoner held by another. That court also held that the prisoner's demand upon the accusing State gives rise to an obligation to act affirmatively to secure his presence for trial; failure of the accusing State to promptly obtain the defendant from the detaining sovereign might invalidate any judgment ultimately obtained, if the time lapse is sufficiently great and is not excused.4 The Florida Supreme Court concluded that once the discretionary decision to charge a prisoner with a crime has been made, an obligation arises to act diligently toward procuring the accused for trial and that obligation is a ministerial duty subject to a writ of mandamus. However, since Dickey had named the Circuit Court as the respondent, rather than the appropriate State Attorney, the petition was dismissed without prejudice to his right to file another petition naming the appropriate respondent.

On September 1, 1967, Dickey filed with the Circuit Court a motion to have the court order the Gadsden County State Attorney to dismiss the detainer warrant because he had been denied his right to a speedy trial. The State Attorney then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus ad prosequendum to secure Dickey's return to Florida for trial. On December 15, 1967, the Circuit Court issued the writ, and on the same day the State Attorney filed an information charging Dickey with the armed robbery allegedly committed in 1960. Dickey was returned to Florida on January 23, 1968. On January 30, the day before the trial was to begin, Dickey's appointed counsel filed a motion for a continuance so that the whereabouts of two witnesses could be determined, and a motion asking that the information be quashed on the ground that the delay of over seven years amounted to a denial of Dickey's right to a speedy trial. The motion alleged that the delay was sufficiently prejudicial to make a fair trial impossible.5 The Circuit Court granted the continuance but took the motion to quash under advisement. The trial was set for February 13.

Dickey's counsel filed another motion for a continuance, dated February 12, stating that one of the witnesses could not be located and that more time was needed.6 The court denied the motion and, before the commencement of the trial on the next day, denied the motion to quash.

At the trial Mrs. Clark testified from memory as to the description she had given the deputy after the crime, that she had identified Dickey in the Jackson County Jail, and that he was the robber. She stated that she could not recall having seen Dickey before the night of the crime. Deputy Martin also testified concerning the identification at the Jackson jail, noting that the jailer who had been present when Mrs. Clark viewed Dickey had since died. He further testified as to the description of the robber Mrs. Clark had given him, admitting that his memory was hazy and that the notes he had made while investigating the crime had long since been destroyed.

The record indicates that Dickey's defense consisted of his claim that he was in Waycross, Georgia, at the time of the crime and of testimony of another witness that he and Dickey had visited the victimized motel several times. From this latter evidence the defense argued the unlikelihood that Dickey would commit robbery at a place where he was known and would be recognized.

Dickey was convicted and sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment in the State Penitentiary, the sentence to run consecutively with the federal term he was then serving. He then sought review in the Florida District Court of Appeal, alleging that the trial judge had erred in not granting his motion to quash. That court affirmed the conviction without opinion, saying only that 'appellant * * * failed to demonstrate reversible error * * *.' 215 So.2d 772, 773.


The record in this case shows that petitioner was available to the State at all times during the seven-year period before his trial. The State suggests no tenable reason for deferring the trial in the face of petitioner's diligent and repeated efforts by motions in the state court in 1962, 1963, and 1966 to secure a prompt trial. In the interval two witnesses died and another potential defense witness is alleged to have become unavailable. Police records of possible relevance have been lost or destroyed.

Florida argues that the right of the petitioner under the Federal Constitution did not arise until this Court's decision in Klopfer v. North Carolina, 386 U.S. 213, 87 S.Ct. 988, 18 L.Ed.2d 1 (1967), and that not until Smith v. Hooey, 393 U.S. 374, 89 S.Ct. 575, 21 L.Ed.2d 607 (1969), was there a constitutional requirement that the State press for trial of a defendant in custody in another jurisdiction.

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