Ringstaff v. Howard

Decision Date28 September 1989
Docket NumberNo. 87-7573,87-7573
Citation885 F.2d 1542
PartiesTerry Kent RINGSTAFF, Petitioner-Appellant, v. Dale HOWARD and The Attorney General of the State of Alabama, Don Siegelman, Respondents-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit

Janie Baker Clarke, Montgomery, Ala., for petitioner-appellant.

Cecil G. Brendle, Jr., Asst. Atty. Gen., Montgomery, Ala., for respondents-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court of the Middle District of Alabama.


RONEY, Chief Judge:

This appeal is from the district court's denial of habeas relief to convicted murderer Terry Kent Ringstaff. A divided panel of this Court determined that Ringstaff's right to a speedy trial had been violated when the State delayed prosecuting him pending a decision by the Alabama Supreme Court on the validity of Alabama's death penalty statute, a portion of which had been struck as unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court just nine days after Ringstaff's arrest in this case. Ringstaff v. Howard, 861 F.2d 644 (11th Cir.1988). The full court voted to hear this case in banc and vacated the prior panel opinion. Ringstaff v. Howard, 861 F.2d at 650 (in banc ). The in banc court now affirms the denial of relief on the ground that the State could legitimately wait until the critical issue of the continued validity of Alabama's death penalty law was settled. This being so, Ringstaff was required to show he actually suffered from the delay, which he has failed to do.

The key to the decision in this case is whether the defendant had to show prejudice from the delay in bringing him to trial. If he had to make such a showing, he loses. If he does not have this burden, he wins. In Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 92 S.Ct. 2182, 33 L.Ed.2d 101 (1972), the Supreme Court established a four-part balancing test for evaluating claims of the denial of the constitutional right to a speedy trial. The factors to be weighed are: (1) length of delay; (2) reason for delay; (3) defendant's assertion of the right; and (4) prejudice to defendant. Id. at 530, 92 S.Ct. at 2191. Under Barker the length of the delay must be "presumptively prejudicial" in order to trigger an inquiry into the other three factors. The defendant does not have to show actual prejudice by delay, however, if the first three factors weigh heavily against the Government. United States v. Mitchell, 769 F.2d 1544, 1547 (11th Cir.1985), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 1066, 106 S.Ct. 819, 88 L.Ed.2d 792 (1986).

In this case, the length of delay was concededly sufficient to require further inquiry. Ringstaff was brought to trial and convicted of murder some 23 months following his arrest, a period which this Court assumes raises Sixth Amendment concerns, although there is no precise time for the constitutional right to a speedy trial to be implicated. Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 521, 92 S.Ct. 2182, 2187, 33 L.Ed.2d 101 (1972) ("We cannot definitely say how long is too long in a system where justice is supposed to be swift but deliberate.") The district court held, and the State does not now dispute, that the delay of 23 months was "presumptively prejudicial" and that Ringstaff asserted his speedy trial right five months after he was arrested. Thus, the focus here is on the reason for the delay. If the reason weighed heavily against the Government, defendant would not have to prove prejudice.

Seven of the 23 months are attributable to the defendant's request for a psychiatric evaluation and are excused from the speedy trial computation. United States v. O'Bryant, 775 F.2d 1528 (11th Cir.1985). Nine of the remaining 16 months involve a decision by the Government to wait until the Alabama Supreme Court rendered its decision in Beck v. State, 396 So.2d 645 (Ala.1980). In that case, the Alabama Supreme Court held that the provision in the State's death penalty statute prohibiting lesser offense instructions--struck down as unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in June 1980--could be severed from the rest of the statute. Until the Beck decision, the validity of the State's entire capital statutory scheme was in doubt. As the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals stated, the Government exercised "commendable caution and circumspection rather than rushing ahead" when it chose not to proceed to trial against Ringstaff on capital murder charges pending a resolution of the issue. Ringstaff v. State, 451 So.2d 375, 381 (Ala.Crim.App.1984), cert. denied, No. 83-652 (Ala., June 1, 1984). Had the Government pursued the prosecution, it faced the possibility that Ringstaff would have been convicted of capital murder under a statute later determined to be invalid. It would then have been forced to retry Ringstaff, a particularly inefficient use of resources, especially where it is likely that Ringstaff would have been convicted at least of the very same charge from which he now appeals.

Just as the courts have found reasonable the delay while pretrial motions and interlocutory appeals are resolved, it was reasonable for the Government to wait until this very important issue of law was settled before bringing Ringstaff to trial. See United States v. Loud Hawk, 474 U.S. 302, 106 S.Ct. 648, 88 L.Ed.2d 640 (1986) (Government's interlocutory appeal which took two years accorded little weight in Barker balancing); Government of the Virgin Islands v. Burmingham, 788 F.2d 933 (3d Cir.1986) (18-month delay between indictment and trial justified where Territorial Court sought clarification of applicability of Speedy Trial Act to criminal proceedings in its court); United States v. Guerrero, 756 F.2d 1342, 1349-50 (9th Cir.1984) (per curiam) (20-month delay during appeal of pretrial suppression order was justified and did not weigh at all against the government), cert. denied, sub nom. Booth v. United States, 469 U.S. 934, 105 S.Ct. 334, 83 L.Ed.2d 270 (1984); United States ex rel. Fitzgerald v. Jordan, 747 F.2d 1120 (7th Cir.1984) (speedy trial right not violated by 8-month delay while State appealed judge's decision declaring unconstitutional a state statute mandating trial as an adult for 16-year-old defendant charged with armed robbery), cert. denied, 471 U.S. 1056, 105 S.Ct. 2120, 85 L.Ed.2d 484 (1985); United States v. Herman, 576 F.2d 1139 (5th Cir.1978) (18-month delay while state appealed pretrial suppression of incriminating statements made by the defendant was justified). See also Abney v. United States, 431 U.S. 651, 97 S.Ct. 2034, 52 L.Ed.2d 651 (1977) (although not addressing speedy trial, the Court recognized in the context of a double jeopardy claim that resolution of some issues prior to trial is appropriate).

These cases all hold that if the delay had occurred because the legal issue was being determined by pretrial procedures in this case, that delay would be justified in the speedy trial context. Where the issue was being promptly pursued in other litigation, it was not unreasonable for the Government to wait, rather than to attempt to litigate the issue in this case, and necessarily every other capital murder case pending, in order to forestall an automatic speedy trial problem.

There is no evidence that the delay was due to bad faith or a dilatory purpose by the Government. See Loud Hawk, 474 U.S. at 316, 106 S.Ct. at 656. The dissent asserts that the Government's motive was to increase the likelihood that Ringstaff would receive the death penalty and that this motive was an improper maneuver to gain some "tactical advantage" over the defense. It speculates that the trial court may have been hesitant to sentence a defendant to death because of the uncertainty surrounding Alabama law prior to Beck. The district court made no finding of fact that such was the State's motive and the allegation is not supported by the evidence. This is not a case where the Government delayed to harass the defendant or to specifically interfere with the defense, such as delaying the trial to prevent a particular witness from testifying. United States v. Avalos, 541 F.2d 1100, 1113 (5th Cir.1976), cert. denied, 430 U.S. 970, 97 S.Ct. 1656, 52 L.Ed.2d 363 (1977); cf. Arrant v. Wainwright, 468 F.2d 677, 681 (5th Cir.1972) (two-year delay in murder trial not justified when only reason offered by state attorney was that he "did not want to see [the defendant] be acquitted of this crime."), cert. denied, 410 U.S. 947, 93 S.Ct. 1369, 35 L.Ed.2d 613 (1973). Rather, the Government merely waited to see if it could legally proceed with a capital murder prosecution.

The courts should not lightly dispense with the actual prejudice requirement because to do so necessarily results in the "severe remedy of dismissal of the indictment." Barker, 407 U.S. at 522, 92 S.Ct. at 2187. That is, the three Barker factors must indeed weigh heavily against the Government before prejudice should be presumed. Indeed, in Barker itself there was a five-year delay between the defendant's arrest and trial with much of that time attributable to the State's desire to wait until the conviction of a co-defendant whose testimony was believed necessary to the defendant's conviction. Although noting that the delay was "too long a period," the Court nonetheless proceeded to the analysis of whether the defendant had been prejudiced by it, ultimately concluding he had not.

Where the delay was not the result of bad faith or a deliberate attempt to "hamper the defense," and was a reasonable and efficient use of judicial resources, a defendant is required to show he suffered actual prejudice in order to prevail. The Court in Barker identified three interests which the speedy trial right was designed to protect: "(i) to prevent oppressive pretrial incarceration; (ii) to minimize anxiety and concern of the accused; and (iii) to limit the possibility that the defense will be impaired."...

To continue reading

Request your trial
12 cases
  • Doggett v. United States
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • October 9, 1991
    ...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 ......
  • U.S. v. Schlei
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit
    • September 18, 1997
    ...The length of the delay must be "presumptively prejudicial" to trigger an inquiry into the other three factors. Ringstaff v. Howard, 885 F.2d 1542, 1543 (11th Cir.1989), cert. denied, 496 U.S. 927, 110 S.Ct. 2622, 110 L.Ed.2d 643 (1990). A delay is considered presumptively prejudicial as it......
  • United States v. Holland
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Georgia
    • June 21, 2019
    ...(quoting Barker, 407 U.S. at 532, 92 S.Ct. 2182 ). Of these three interests, the third is the most significant. Ringstaff v. Howard, 885 F.2d 1542, 1545 (11th Cir. 1989).As Holland is not incarcerated, the first factor does not apply. Regarding the second factor, Holland contends that hehas......
  • Com. v. DeBlase
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Superior Court
    • February 23, 1994
    ...reason that justifies delay." Id. at 315, 106 S.Ct. at 656, 88 L.Ed.2d at 654 (citation omitted). See also: Ringstaff v. Howard, 885 F.2d 1542, 1544 (11th Cir.1989) (en banc), cert. denied, 496 U.S. 927, 110 S.Ct. 2622, 110 L.Ed.2d 643 (1990); United States v. Guerrero, 756 F.2d 1342, 1349-......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • Misdemeanor defense
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Florida Small-Firm Practice Tools - Volume 1-2 Volume 2
    • April 1, 2023
    ...985 (Fla. 2d DCA 1999).] Unless the delay approaches or exceeds one year, the other factors are not considered. [ Ringstaff v. Howard , 885 F.2d 1542 (11th Cir.1989).] Finally, a defendant must show he or she suffered actual prejudice from the delay unless the first three factors all weigh ......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT