United States v. Pettway

Decision Date07 October 2018
Docket Number12-CR-103S (1)
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of New York

Presently before this Court is Defendant Kenneth Pettway, Jr.'s second motion to dismiss the indictment against him on speedy-trial grounds. (Docket No. 980.) Pettway seeks both dismissal of the indictment and reconsideration of this Court's previous decision denying his first speedy-trial motion. See United States v. Pettway, No. 12-CR-103S (1), 2017 WL 3475434 (W.D.N.Y. Aug. 11, 2017). For the reasons discussed below, Pettway's motion is denied in its entirety.


On May 22, 2018, Pettway proceeded to trial before the Honorable Thomas J. McAvoy1 on a 5-count indictment that charged him with controlled substances and firearms offenses, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841 (a)(1), 846, and 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1), 924 (a)(2), 924 (c)(1). (Docket No. 1033.) Nine days later, the jury convicted Pettway on each count. (Docket Nos. 1026, 1034, 1036.) Pettway is currently scheduled to be sentenced before Judge McAvoy on October 15, 2018. (Docket No. 1098.)

Three weeks before trial, Pettway filed his second speedy-trial motion. (Docket No. 980.) This Court immediately directed the government to respond. (Docket No. 982.) In the interim, Pettway supplemented his motion. (Docket No. 993.) The government thereafter moved to extend its time to respond, which this Court granted. (Docket Nos. 997, 998.)

On May 22, 2018, the date of jury selection, the government timely filed its response to Pettway's motion. (Docket No. 1013.) After unsuccessfully moving to strike the government's response (see Docket Nos.1025, 1028), Pettway filed a reply on June 15, 2018; the government filed a sur-reply on June 25, 2018; and Pettway filed a sur-sur-reply on August 31, 2018. (Docket Nos. 1043, 1047, 1103.) Upon the completion of this full briefing, this Court took the motion under advisement without oral argument. (Docket No. 1028.)

A. Sixth Amendment Right to a Speedy Trial

The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees that in all criminal prosecutions "the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial." U.S. Const. amend. VI. The speedy trial guarantee "is as fundamental as any of the rights secured by the Sixth Amendment." Klopfer v. North Carolina, 386 U.S. 213, 223, 87 S.Ct. 988, 18 L. Ed. 2d 1 (1967). This right "is designed to minimize the possibility of lengthy incarceration prior to trial, to reduce the lesser, but nevertheless substantial, impairment of liberty imposed on an accused while released on bail, and to shorten the disruption of life caused by arrest and the presence of unresolved criminal charges." United States v. MacDonald, 456 U.S. 1, 8, 102 S. Ct. 1497, 71 L. Ed. 2d 696 (1982); see United States v. Ewell, 383 U.S. 116, 120, 86 S. Ct. 773, 776, 15 L. Ed. 2d 627 (1966) (describing the speedy-trial guarantee as "an important safeguard to prevent undue and oppressive incarceration prior to trial, to minimize anxiety and concern accompanying public accusation and to limit the possibilities that long delay will impair the ability of an accused to defend himself").

Society has an interest in speedy trials as well. Speedy trials limit an accused's ability to leverage a court's backlog of cases to obtain a more advantageous plea resolution; protect the community by reducing a non-detained accused's opportunity to commit other crimes; shorten the time available to abscond; increase the opportunity for effective rehabilitation by minimizing delay between arrest and punishment; and reduce the expense and overcrowding concerns attendant to pretrial incarceration. See Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 519-20, 92 S. Ct. 2182, 33 L. Ed. 2d 101 (1972) (explaining the societal interest as "exist[ing] separate from, and at times in opposition to, the interests of the accused"); United States v. Ghailani, 733 F.3d 29, 41 (2d Cir. 2013) (recognizing that "the public has an interest in quickly bringing defendants to trial to prevent a backlog of cases that might permit dangerous criminals to linger unsupervised for extended periods of time while on bail, delay rehabilitation, and otherwise hinder the criminal justicesystem").

Partly because of these often-dueling interests, the speedy-trial right has been described as "amorphous," "slippery," and "necessarily relative." Barker, 407 U.S. at 522 (quoting Beavers v. Haubert, 198 U.S. 77, 87, 25 S. Ct. 573, 576, 49 L. Ed. 950 (1905)). "It is consistent with delays and depends upon circumstances." Beavers, 198 U.S. at 87. The right therefore cannot be measured in a finite number of days, months, or years, "largely because what may be considered 'speedy' is necessarily dependent on the nature of the trial and the parties' interests in the given case." Ghailani, 733 F.3d at 41; see Barker 407 U.S. at 521 ("It is . . . impossible to determine with precision when the right has been denied. We cannot definitively say how long is too long in a system where justice is supposed to be swift but deliberate."); Ewell, 383 U.S. at 120 ("A requirement of unreasonable speed would have a deleterious effect both upon the rights of the accused and upon the ability of society to protect itself."); United States v. Ray, 578 F.3d 184, 191 (2d Cir. 2009) (noting that the right "neither prohibits all delays, nor establishes a strict time limit between the announcement of a charge and the commencement of trial").

Rather, a balancing test is employed to shape the contours of the speedy-trial right. The United States Supreme Court first set forth this test in Barker, where it outlined four factors to be weighed in assessing a speedy-trial claim: the length of delay; the reason for the delay; the defendant's assertion of his right; and prejudice to the defendant. 407 U.S. at 530. These factors must be considered together, as none alone has the "talismanic" quality sufficient to find deprivation of the speedy-trial right. Id. at 533. The Barker balancing process is difficult and sensitive but must be carried out with "fullrecognition that the accused's interest in a speedy trial is specifically affirmed in the Constitution." Id. If the speedy-trial right is violated, dismissal of the charges with prejudice is mandatory. Strunk v. United States, 412 U.S. 434, 440, 93 S. Ct. 2260, 37 L. Ed. 2d 56 (1973).

Finally, the government and the court share the burden of bringing criminal cases to trial promptly. See United States v. New Buffalo Amusement Corp., 600 F.2d 368, 378 (2d Cir. 1979); United States v. Vispi, 545 F.2d 328, 334 (2d Cir. 1976). And where the delay is substantial, the government bears the burden of proving that the delay was justified and that the defendant's speedy-trial rights were not violated. New Buffalo Amusement, 600 F.2d at 378; United States v. Tigano, 880 F.3d 602, 612 (2d Cir. 2018).

B. Pettway's Request for Reconsideration

On August 11, 2017, this Court denied Pettway's first motion to dismiss asserting violations of his speedy-trial rights under the Speedy Trial Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3161 et seq. and the Sixth Amendment. See Pettway, 2017 WL 3475434, at *5. This Court first found that Pettway's "non-specific, speculative assertions" were "wholly insufficient" to meet his burden of demonstrating a Speedy Trial Act violation. Id. at *2. Second, as it relates to the Sixth Amendment, this Court found relative to the Barker factors that (1) the 67-month delay to that point was presumptively prejudicial; (2) the government was not solely responsible for any period of unreasonable delay, but rather, the defendants' litigation strategy was predominantly the cause of the protracted delays; (3) Pettway did not begin meaningfully asserting his speedy-trial rights until January 2017; and (4) Pettway did not demonstrate prejudice or disadvantage arising from the delay sufficientto establish a constitutional violation. See id. at *2-5. This Court therefore found that consideration of the Barker factors counseled against finding a Sixth Amendment speedy-trial violation. See id. at *5. Pettway now seeks reconsideration.

Generally, a district judge may modify pre-trial rulings and interlocutory orders at any time before final judgment. See In re United States, 733 F.2d 10, 13 (2d Cir. 1984). Reconsideration of a prior decision is generally justified in any one of the following three circumstances: (1) an intervening change in controlling law; (2) new evidence; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or to prevent manifest injustice. See Virgin Atl. Airways, Ltd. v. Nat'l Mediation Bd., 956 F.2d 1245, 1255 (2d Cir.1992); see also Shrader v. CSZ Trans., Inc., 70 F.3d 255, 257 (2d Cir. 1995) ("reconsideration will generally be denied unless the moving party can point to controlling decisions or data that the court overlooked—matters, in other words, that might reasonably be expected to alter the conclusion reached by the court"); Amerisure Ins. Co. v. Laserage Tech. Corp., No. 96-CV-6313, 1998 WL 310750, *1 (W.D.N.Y. Feb. 12, 1998) (citing United States v. Adegbite, 877 F.2d 174, 178 (2d Cir. 1989)).

The decision whether to grant or deny a motion to reconsider lies in the court's discretion. See McCarthy v. Manson, 714 F.2d 234, 237 (2d Cir. 1983). Parties bringing motions to reconsider "should evaluate whether what may seem to be a clear error of law is in fact simply a point of disagreement between the Court and the litigant." Duane v. Spaulding and Rogers Mfg. Inc., No. 92-CV-305, 1994 WL 494651, *1 (N.D.N.Y. Aug. 10, 1994) (quoting McDowell Oil Serv. v. Interstate Fire and Cas., 817 F. Supp. 538, 541 (M.D.Pa. 1993)). Motions for reconsideration are not to be used as a means toreargue matters already disposed of by prior rulings or to put forward additional arguments that could have been raised before the decision. See Duane, 1994 WL 494651 at *1. After all, a "motion for...

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