Is a Four Year Delay Before Filing Murder Charges Improper?
Abel appealed his murder conviction, contending that because detectives learned his identity in August, 1993, but did not bring charges until June, 1995, the case should have been dismissed for investigative delay (which is distinct from a statute of limitations).Brief Synopsis: When there is delay in charging an individual with a crime, defendant must show the delay caused him or her undue prejudice and that the delay was unjustified. In a four-year delay in bringing murder charges, as in the case summarized below, the delay was not unduly prejudicial or unjustified.
The California Supreme Court, in ruling on Abel’s appeal in People v. John Clyde Abel (2012 DJDAR 3558), began its analysis by noting that Abel’s arguments did not involve the Sixth Amendment because the “speedy trial” right does not attach until the defendant is arrested or a complaint is filed in a felony matter. Nevertheless, Abel did have the right to object to a precharging delay if the delay is unduly prejudicial and unjustified. People v. Nelson (2008 43 Cal.4th 1242.
The Court then looked to see if the delay was first, unduly prejudicial, and, second, if it was unjustified. Turning to the first prong, the Court found that Abel’s testimony, as well as that of Gano, were both very specific and showed virtually no degradation due to the delay in filing. The Court also said that the mortgage company telephone records were actually produced at trial, not destroyed or misplaced at all as Abel claimed. Lastly, the Court found that Abel made no showing that Tribble’s recall would have been more specific had she been contacted earlier, or if she had testified earlier, that her memory would have been better.
In other words, the California Supreme Court found that Abel did not meet his initial burden of showing undue prejudice from the precharging delay. Consequently, the Court did not need to evaluate the second issue of whether the delay was justified and then balance the harm from the delay against the justification. Serna v. Sup. Ct. (1985) 40 Cal.3d 239, 249. As an aside, however, the Court commented that it appeared the police actively investigated the case after Abel was identified, suggesting the delay was in fact justified.
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