U.S. v. Lovasco, 75-1852

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
Citation532 F.2d 59
Docket NumberNo. 75-1852,75-1852
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Appellant, v. Eugene LOVASCO, Sr., Appellee.
Decision Date21 April 1976

Donald J. Stohr, U. S. Atty., Richard E. Coughlin, Asst. U. S. Atty., St. Louis, Mo., for appellant.

Louis Gilden, St. Louis, Mo., for appellee.

Before CLARK, Associate Justice, Retired, * and BRIGHT and HENLEY, Circuit Judges.

BRIGHT, Circuit Judge.

The grand jury on March 6, 1975, indicted Eugene Lovasco, Sr., charging him with three counts of unlawful possession of handguns stolen from the mail, and one count of engaging in the business of dealing in firearms without a license, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(a)(1) and 924(a). These indictments referred to eight handguns which Lovasco had possessed and then sold to a third party between July 25, 1973 and August 31, 1973, some 17 months before the indictment.

Prior to trial, Lovasco moved to dismiss the indictments because of prejudicial preindictment delay. The alleged offenses had been investigated by the postal inspector of the St. Louis, Missouri, post office department, between August 20, 1973, and October 2, 1973. During the investigation on September 26, 1973, a postal inspector interviewed Lovasco in the presence of his attorney and obtained a statement from him. The post office department sent a report of alleged offenses to the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri on October 2, 1973.

District Court Judge John K. Regan dismissed all counts of the indictment, noting that although the Government had possessed all of the information relating to the defendant's alleged commission of the offenses on or about October 2, 1973, it did not charge the defendant or present the matter to a grand jury until more than 17 months thereafter. The court concluded:

As a result of the delay defendant has been prejudiced by reason of the death of Tom Stewart, a material witness on his behalf. The Government's delay has not been explained or justified and we find it unnecessary and unreasonable. 1

Upon our review of the record, we affirm the district court's dismissal of counts one, two, and three (alleging unlawful possession of stolen handguns), but direct reinstatement of count four (dealing in firearms without a license).

In testimony supporting his motion for dismissal, Mr. Lovasco repeated in substance the statement that he had earlier made to postal authorities to the effect that after visiting his son, Eugene, Jr., a mail handler at the Clark Avenue mail facility of the Terminal Railroad Association, he found a sack in the back of his car containing Browning automatic pistols. Lovasco added to that earlier statement by testifying that he had received two or three of the automatic pistols from one Tom Stewart, now deceased, who had worked for the Terminal Railroad as did Lovasco. Lovasco stated that he had not mentioned to the postal inspector investigating the case that he received some of the guns from Stewart because as he described Stewart, "this guy was a bad tomato, he was liable to take a shot at me if I told him."

Some other information relative to Mr. Lovasco having sold a gun to another party surfaced in March of 1975, but that additional evidence does not seem to be embodied in any of the counts of the indictment. The postal inspector in charge of the case testified that he would have recommended the prosecution of this case and presentation of the evidence to the grand jury based on the information contained in the report submitted to the United States Attorney on October 2, 1973.

The prosecuting attorney has indicated that the Government theorized that the guns in question had come from the accused's son, who worked at the post office, but no charges have been made against him. At oral argument the prosecutor indicated the delay in the prosecution resulted from awaiting results of further investigation which might have implicated the person or persons who may have stolen the mailed matter.

We discussed preindictment delay in United States v. Jackson, 504 F.2d 337 (8th Cir. 1974), where we noted:

The Supreme Court in Marion (United States v. Marion, 404 U.S. 307, 92 S.Ct. 455, 30 L.Ed.2d 468 (1971)) recognized that pre-prosecution delay on the part of the government may violate a defendant's right to due process of law under the Fifth Amendment, and specifically declared that the statute of limitations does not fully define the rights of criminal suspects to be speedily accused. (Id. at 339.)

We added:

Our court, too, has often recognized that an unreasonable pre-accusation delay, coupled with prejudice to the defendant, may violate the Fifth Amendment, although we have yet to hold in any case that the prejudice was sufficient to require reversal. (Id. at 339 (citations omitted).)

Here, the trial court found the two basic elements essential to a claim of preindictment delay unreasonable delay and prejudice to one's ability to defend against the charges. Although the essential facts underlying the indictment were known to the Government and to the prosecutor on October 2, 1973, no prosecution was initiated for 17 months. No reason existed for the delay except a hope on the part of the Government that others might be discovered who may have participated in the theft of firearms from the United States mails. The postal inspector had submitted a prompt report to the prosecutor with documentations of facts uncovered in the investigation. The district court deemed the delay unjustified, unnecessary, and unreasonable. That determination is supported by the evidence.

Lovasco testified that one Tom Stewart, who is now dead, sold him two of the firearms in question, and contends that were Stewart's testimony available it would support his claim that he did not know that the guns were stolen from the United States mails. In support of the motion to dismiss, Lovasco testified that Stewart died about six months prior to April 25, 1975. The Government concedes that Tom Stewart did exist and was employed by the Terminal Railroad. While the Government does not concede Stewart's death, it does not claim to have any evidence that he is now alive. Thus, the record also supports the district court's finding that the defendant has been prejudiced by reason of the death of Tom Stewart, a material witness on his behalf.

These findings of unreasonable delay and prejudice support the dismissal of counts one, two, and three of the indictment, but do not support dismissal of count four.

The fourth count charges Lovasco with dealing in firearms without a license as required by federal law. According to the investigation report, one Joe Boaz, Jr., stated that he had purchased eight pistols from Eugene Lovasco, Sr. on various dates between July 26, and September 11, 1973. In the statement given to the postal inspector, Lovasco admitted selling four or five pistols that he had found in his car to Joe Boaz, Jr., but denied selling any other pistols to him. In his testimony before the district court on the motion to dismiss, the accused admitted finding a bag of pistols in the car and obtaining two other pistols from Tom Stewart. He added, "and Joe Boaz bought them over the telephone."

As we understand it, the fourth...

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