In general, the Speedy Trial Act requires federal criminal trials to commence within 70 days of the time a defendant is charged or makes an initial appearance (whichever occurs laters). However, the Act also permits continuances that do not count against the 70 days when a judge finds “that the ends of justice served by [a continuance] outweigh the best interest of the public and the defendant in a speedy trial.” 18 U.S.C. § 3161(h)(7)(A). These ends-of-justice findings must be made on the record, either orally or in writing, but the statute does not specify when they must be made.
In United States v. Zedner, 547 U.S. 489 (2006), the Supreme Court indicated that the “best practice” is for the judge to articulate his or her findings at the same time that a continuance is granted. But are lower courts actually required to adhere to this “best practice”?
Earlier today, in United States v. Wasson (No. 10-2577), the Seventh Circuit affirmed that express ends-of-justice findings may await the defendant’s motion to dismiss on speedy trial grounds.
Charged in 2006, Wasson was not actually tried until 2009. The delays resulted from a series of continuances granted by the court based on various ends-of-justice considerations. Although Wasson either requested or supported each continuance, he moved to dismiss on speedy trial grounds before trial. The motion was denied, and he was convicted. On appeal, he renewed his speedy trial argument, focusing on two continuances for which the court had initially offered only cursory explanations. More developed explanations were later provided in response to Wasson’s motion to dismiss.
The Seventh Circuit held that Wasson was entitled to nothing more. The court did not go so far as to say that a post-motion explanation would always suffice. Rather, citing United States v. Napadow, 596 F.3d 398 (7th Cir. 2010), the court relied on both the later explanation given to Wasson and the ”sequence of events” leading up to the continuances. (15) More specifically, the full record of the hearings on the continuances “satsifie[d the Seventh Circuit that the lower] court considered the appropriate factors” under the Speedy Trial Act. (16)
Because the Seventh Circuit was satisfied with the lower court’s ends-of-justice findings, it did not need to reach the government’s argument “that because Wasson either requested or agreed to each continuance he is estopped from challenging them on appeal.” (19) The court nonetheless expressed some sympathy for the government’s position and expressly rejected “Wasson’s suggestion that estoppel would not apply here simply because he made a timely motion to dismiss under the Act.” (19)
Cross posted at Seventh Circuit Updates.