Doggett v. United States

Decision Date09 October 1991
Docket NumberNo. 90-857,90-857
PartiesMarc Gilbert DOGGETT, Petitioner v. UNITED STATES
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus *

In February 1980, petitioner Doggett was indicted on federal drug charges, but he left the country before the Drug Enforcement Agency could secure his arrest. The DEA knew that he was later imprisoned in Panama, but after requesting that he be expelled back to the United States, never followed up on his status. Once the DEA discovered that he had left Panama for Colombia, it made no further attempt to locate him. Thus, it was unaware that he reentered this country in 1982 and subsequently married, earned a college degree, found steady employment, lived openly under his own name, and stayed within the law. The Marshal's Service eventually located him during a simple credit check on individuals with outstanding warrants. He was arrested in September 1988, 81/2 years after his indictment. He moved to dismiss the indictment on the ground that the Government's failure to prosecute him earlier violated his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial, but the District Court denied the motion, and he entered a conditional guilty plea. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: The delay between Doggett's indictment and arrest violated his right to a speedy trial. His claim meets the Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 530, 92 S.Ct. 2182, 2192, 33 L.Ed.2d 101, criteria for evaluating speedy trial claims. First, the extraordinary 81/2 year lag between his indictment and arrest clearly suffices to trigger the speedy trial enquiry. Second, the Government was to blame for the delay. The District Court's finding that the Government was negligent in pursuing Doggett should be viewed with considerable deference, and neither the Government nor the record provides any reason to reject that finding. Third, Doggett asserted in due course his right to a speedy trial. The courts below found that he did not know of his indictment before his arrest, and, in the factual basis supporting his guilty plea, the Government essentially conceded this point. Finally, the negligent delay between Doggett's indictment and arrest presumptively prejudiced his ability to prepare an adequate defense. The Government errs in arguing that the Speedy Trial Clause does not significantly protect a defendant's interest in fair adjudication. United States v. Marion, 404 U.S. 307, 320-323, 92 S.Ct. 455, 463-465, 30 L.Ed.2d 468; United States v. MacDonald, 456 U.S. 1, 8, 102 S.Ct. 1497, 1502, 71 L.Ed.2d 696; United States v. Loud Hawk, 474 U.S. 302, 312, 106 S.Ct. 648, 654, 88 L.Ed.2d 640, distin-

guished. Nor does Doggett's failure to cite any specifically demonstrable prejudice doom his claim, since excessive delay can compromise a trial's reliability in unidentifiable ways. Presumptive prejudice is part of the mix of relevant Barker factors and increases in importance with the length of the delay. Here, the Government's egregious persistence in failing to prosecute Doggett is sufficient to warrant granting relief. The negligence caused delay six times as long as that generally deemed sufficient to trigger judicial review, and the presumption of prejudice is neither extenuated, as by Doggett's acquiescence, nor persuasively rebutted. Pp. 651-658.

906 F.2d 573 (CA 11 1990), reversed and remanded.

SOUTER, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, BLACKMUN, STEVENS, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed a dissenting opinion. THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and SCALIA, J., joined.

William J. Sheppard, Jacksonville, Fla., for petitioner.

William C. Bryson, Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Justice SOUTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case we consider whether the delay of 81/2 years between petitioner's indictment and arrest violated his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. We hold that it did.

I

On February 22, 1980, petitioner Marc Doggett was indicted for conspiring with several others to import and distribute cocaine. See 84 Stat. 1265, 1291, as amended, 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 963. Douglas Driver, the Drug Enforcement Administration's principal agent investigating the conspiracy, told the United States Marshal's Service that the DEA would oversee the apprehension of Doggett and his confederates. On March 18, 1980, two police officers set out

under Driver's orders to arrest Doggett at his parents' house in Raleigh, North Carolina, only to find that he was not there. His mother told the officers that he had left for Colombia four days earlier.

To catch Doggett on his return to the United States, Driver sent word of his outstanding arrest warrant to all United States Customs stations and to a number of law enforcement organizations. He also placed Doggett's name in the Treasury Enforcement Communication System (TECS), a computer network that helps Customs agents screen people entering the country, and in the National Crime Information Center computer system, which serves similar ends. The TECS entry expired that September, however, and Doggett's name vanished from the system.

In September 1981, Driver found out that Doggett was under arrest on drug charges in Panama and, thinking that a formal extradition request would be futile, simply asked Panama to "expel" Doggett to the United States. Although the Panamanian authorities promised to comply when their own proceedings had run their course, they freed Doggett the following July and let him go to Colombia, where he stayed with an aunt for several months. On September 25, 1982, he passed unhindered through Customs in New York City and settled down in Virginia. Since his return to the United States, he has married, earned a college degree, found a steady job as a computer operations manager, lived openly under his own name, and stayed within the law.

Doggett's travels abroad had not wholly escaped the Government's notice, however. In 1982, the American Embassy in Panama told the State Department of his departure to Colombia, but that information, for whatever reason, eluded the DEA, and Agent Driver assumed for several years that his quarry was still serving time in a Panamanian prison. Driver never asked DEA officials in Panama to check into Doggett's status, and only after his own fortuitous assignment to that country in 1985 did he discover Doggett's depar-

ture for Colombia. Driver then simply assumed Doggett had settled there, and he made no effort to find out for sure or to track Doggett down, either abroad or in the United States. Thus Doggett remained lost to the American criminal justice system until September 1988, when the Marshal's Service ran a simple credit check on several thousand people subject to outstanding arrest warrants and, within minutes, found out where Doggett lived and worked. On September 5, 1988, nearly 6 years after his return to the United States and 81/2 years after his indictment, Doggett was arrested.

He naturally moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that the Government's failure to prosecute him earlier violated his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. The Federal Magistrate hearing his motion applied the criteria for assessing speedy trial claims set out in Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 92 S.Ct. 2182, 33 L.Ed.2d 101 (1972): "[l]ength of delay, the reason for the delay, the defendant's assertion of his right, and prejudice to the defendant." Id., at 530, 92 S.Ct., at 2192 (footnote omitted). The Magistrate found that the delay between Doggett's indictment and arrest was long enough to be "presumptively prejudicial," Magistrate's Report, reprinted at App. to Pet. for Cert. 27-28, that the delay "clearly [was] attributable to the negligence of the government," id., at 39, and that Doggett could not be faulted for any delay in asserting his right to a speedy trial, there being no evidence that he had known of the charges against him until his arrest, id., at 42-44. The Magistrate also found, however, that Doggett had made no affirmative showing that the delay had impaired his ability to mount a successful defense or had otherwise prejudiced him. In his recommendation to the District Court, the Magistrate contended that this failure to demonstrate particular prejudice sufficed to defeat Doggett's speedy trial claim.

The District Court took the recommendation and denied Doggett's motion. Doggett then entered a conditional guilty plea under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(a)(2),

expressly reserving the right to appeal his ensuing conviction on the speedy trial claim.

A split panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed. 906 F.2d 573 (CA11 1990). Following Circuit precedent, see Ringstaff v. Howard, 885 F.2d 1542 (CA11 1989) (en banc), the court ruled that Doggett could prevail only by proving "actual prejudice" or by establishing that "the first three Barker factors weigh[ed] heavily in his favor." 906 F.2d, at 582. The majority agreed with the Magistrate that Doggett had not shown actual prejudice, and, attributing the Government's delay to "negligence" rather than "bad faith," id., at 578-579, it concluded that Barker's first three factors did not weigh so heavily against the Government as to make proof of specific prejudice unnecessary. Judge Clark dissented, arguing, among other things, that the majority had placed undue emphasis on Doggett's inability to prove actual prejudice.

We granted Doggett's petition for certiorari, 498 U.S. ----, 111 S.Ct. 1070, 112 L.Ed.2d 1176 (1991), and now reverse.

II

The Sixth Amendment guarantees that, "[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy . . . trial. . . ." On its face, the Speedy Trial Clause is written with such breadth that, taken literally, it would forbid the government to delay the trial of an "accused" for any reason at all. Our cases, however, have qualified the literal sweep of the provision by specifically recognizing the...

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