United States v. Taylor

Decision Date24 June 1988
Docket NumberNo. 87-573,87-573
Citation101 L.Ed.2d 297,108 S.Ct. 2413,487 U.S. 326
PartiesUNITED STATES, Petitioner v. Larry Lee TAYLOR
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

The Speedy Trial Act of 1974 requires that an indictment be dismissed if the defendant is not brought to trial within a 70-day period, and requires the court, in determining whether to dismiss with or without prejudice, to "consider, among others, each of the following factors: the seriousness of the offense; the facts and circumstances . . . which led to the dismissal; and the impact of a reprosecution on the administration of [the Act and] of justice." 18 U.S.C. § 3162(a)(2). After respondent failed to appear for his trial on federal narcotics charges, which was scheduled to commence in the Federal District Court in Seattle one day prior to the expiration of the 70-day period, 15 days not otherwise excludable under the Act elapsed between his subsequent arrest in California and the issuance by a federal grand jury in Seattle of a superseding indictment. Respondent's return to Seattle for trial during this period was delayed for various reasons, including slow processing by the Government. The District Court granted respondent's § 3162(a)(2) motion to dismiss with prejudice, finding that, although respondent was charged with serious offenses, the Government's "lackadaisical behavior" was inexcusable and that the administration of the Act and of justice required a stern response. The Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that, in light of the case's "peculiar circumstances," the lower court had not abused its discretion in dismissing with prejudice in order to send a strong message to the Government that the Act must be observed.


1. The Act establishes a framework which guides district court determinations of whether to dismiss with or without prejudice, and appellate court review of such determinations. Pp. 332-337.

(a) Section 3162(a)(2)'s language establishes that, in determining whether to dismiss with or without prejudice, courts must consider at least the three factors specified in the section. The Act's legislative history indicates that prejudice to the defendant should also be considered before reprosecution is barred, and that the decision to dismiss with or without prejudice is left to the district court's guided discretion, with neither remedy having priority. Pp. 332-335.

(b) Section 3162(a)(2) requires the district court to consider carefully the specified factors as applied to the particular case and to articu- late clearly their effect in rendering its decision. On appeal, the reviewing court must undertake a more substantive scrutiny than would be the case absent legislatively identified standards, in order to ascertain whether the district court has properly applied the law to the facts or whether it has ignored or slighted a factor that Congress has deemed pertinent to the choice of remedy. When the statutory factors have been properly considered, and supporting factual findings are not clearly in error, the district court's judgment of how opposing considerations balance should not be lightly disturbed. Pp. 335-337.

2. Analysis of the record within the above framework establishes that the District Court abused its discretion in deciding to bar reprosecution, and that the Court of Appeals erred in holding otherwise. The District Court did not explain how it factored in the seriousness of the offenses with which respondent was charged. Rather, the court relied heavily on its unexplained characterization of the Government conduct as "lackadaisical," while failing to consider other relevant facts and circumstances leading to dismissal. Seemingly ignored were the brevity of the delay in bringing respondent to trial and the consequential lack of prejudice to respondent, as well as respondent's own illicit contribution to the delay in failing to appear for trial. The court's desire to send a strong message to the Government that unexcused delays will not be tolerated is by definition implicated in almost every case under the Act, and, standing alone, does not suffice to justify barring reprosecution in light of all the other circumstances. Pp. 337-343.

821 F.2d 1377 (CA9 1987), reversed.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, O'CONNOR, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined, and in all but Part II-A of which SCALIA, J., joined. WHITE, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. ---. SCALIA, J., filed an opinion concurring in part, post, p. ---. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. ---.

Edwin S. Kneedler, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Ian G. Loveseth, San Francisco, Cal., for respondent.

Justice BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case requires us to consider the bounds of a district court's discretion to choose between dismissal with and with- out prejudice, as a remedy for a violation of the Speedy Trial Act of 1974, as amended, 18 U.S.C. § 3161 et seq. (1982 ed. and Supp. IV).


On July 25, 1984, respondent Larry Lee Taylor was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and possession of 400 grams of cocaine with intent to distribute. His trial was scheduled to commence in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington in Seattle on November 19, 1984, the day prior to the expiration of the 70-day period within which the Act requires the Government to bring an indicted individual to trial. See 18 U.S.C. § 3161(c)(1).1 Respondent failed to appear for trial, and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. On February 5, 1985, respondent was arrested by local police officers in San Mateo County, Cal., on state charges that subsequently were dismissed. Respondent's return to Seattle for his federal trial was delayed for a number of reasons, some related to his being required to testify as a defense witness in a federal narcotics prosecution then pending in San Francisco, and others involving slow processing, the convenience of the United States Marshals Service, and what the District Court would later describe as the "lackadaisical" attitude on the part of the Government. App. to Pet. for Cert. 30a. On April 24, 1985, while respondent was back in San Francisco to testify at a retrial of the narcotics prosecution, a federal grand jury in Seattle issued a superseding indictment against respondent, adding a failure-to- appear charge based on his nonappearance at the scheduled November 19, 1984, trial.

Upon his return to Seattle, respondent moved to dismiss all charges against him, alleging that the Speedy Trial Act had been violated. The District Court rejected the Government's argument that because respondent had failed to appear for trial, the 70-day speedy trial clock began anew when respondent was arrested on February 5, 1985. After considering the time between respondent's nonappearance on November 19, 1984, and the issuance of the superseding indictment on April 24, 1985,2 the court determined that the time respondent was at large, or testifying in the San Francisco prosecution, or being held on state charges, as well as some reasonable time for transporting him to Seattle, were excludable under 18 U.S.C. § 3161(h).3 The District Court concluded, however, that, despite these time exclusions, 15 nonexcludable days had passed, that the clock thus had expired 14 days before the superseding indictment, and that dismissal of the original indictment therefore was mandated. App. to Pet. for Cert. 27a-29a.4

The District Court found that, although respondent was charged with serious offenses, there was "no excuse for the government's lackadaisical behavior in this case." Id., at 30a. The court observed that some of the Government's explanations for the various nonexcludable delays were inconsistent; that the Marshals Service failed to produce respondent expeditiously when requested to do so by a San Mateo County judge; and that even after the state charges were dropped, respondent was not immediately brought before a federal magistrate on the fugitive warrant. The District Court also noted that after an order issued to bring respondent back to Seattle for trial, the Government responded, but without "dispatch," accommodating the Marshals Service's interest in moving several prisoners at once instead of moving respondent within the time period provided for by the Act. It said:

"[T]he court concludes that the administration of the [Act] and of justice would be seriously impaired if the court were not to respond sternly to the instant violation. If the government's behavior in this case were to be tacitly condoned by dismissing the indictment without prejudice, then the [Act] would become a hollow guarantee." Id., at 30a-31a.

The court dismissed the original counts with prejudice to reprosecution.5

A divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed. 821 F.2d 1377 (1987). The full panel agreed with the District Court's holding that respondent's failure to appear for trial on November 19, 1984, should not restart the speedy trial clock, and confirmed the District Court's calculation of 15 nonexcludable days between respondent's flight and the issuance of the superseding indictment. Id., at 1383-1385.

Applying an abuse-of-discretion standard, the Court of Appeals reviewed the District Court's discussion of its decision to dismiss the drug charges with prejudice. Characterizing the lower court's purpose as sending "a strong message to the government" that the Act must be "observed," even with respect to recaptured fugitives, the majority concluded: "Under the peculiar circumstances of this case, we see no need to disturb that ruling on appeal. The district court acted within the bounds of its discretion." Id., at 1386.

The third judge concurred with the finding of a Speedy Trial Act violation, but concluded that the District...

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