Is Right to Speedy Trial Violated with 2 Year Delay in DUI?

Keith Laroy Dews was arrested for DUI on January 29, 2011 in San Francisco County.  He was released from jail with a promise to appear on February 14, 2011 and did appear.  However, when he appeared, the district attorney was not ready to proceed because he did not have defendant’s blood alcohol analysis report.

When the district attorney received the blood alcohol measurement in June, 2011, he prepared a complaint against Mr. Dews and an arrest warrant on the complaint was issued.  The date on the complaint was July, 21, 2011.

Mr. Dews was not arrested until February 11, 2013, more than nineteen months later.  He was then arraigned on February 20, 2013.  Mr. Dews then filed a motion to dismiss the complaint for a violation of his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial.

The interesting issue presented by the motion, also known as a “Serna motion” (Serna v. Superior Court (1985) 40 Cal. 3d 239), was that the prosecution did preserve the statute of limitations by filing the complaint within a year of the arrest, but did not arraign him for over two years after the arrest and nineteen months after filing the complaint.  Dews also originally came to court as he promised, but the People were not ready on the date they required him to appear on.  The judge then issued an arrest warrant, but did not arrest Dews for 19 months.

The trial court denied the motion to dismiss and Dews appealed, requesting a writ of mandate from the appellate division of the superior court that the trial court reconsider his motion.  The appellate division of the superior court, however, denied his request, so Dews appealed the ruling to the California Court of Appeals for the First District.

The Court of Appeals for the First District granted Dews’ request.  In a short ruling (Keith Laroy Dews v. Superior Court of the City and County of San Francisco (2014 DJDAR 1303)), the appellate court noted that the nineteen month delay was indeed problematic and, in fact, presumptively prejudicial.

However, the length at the delay did not automatically entitled Dews to a dismissal of the case.  Instead, the trial must consider this in light of the factors set out in Barker v. Wingo (1972) 407 U.S. 514, 530.   

In looking at Barker, the First District noted that the right to a speedy trial is an important right to reduce overcoming in local jails, which is damaging to “human character.”  Such prolonged detention also imposes costs on the public in the form of maintenance expenses as well as lost wages for the inmates.  However, the delay of trial can also work to a defendant’s advantage.

The court in Barker established a four-past balancing test for evaluating a speedy trial claim.  The factors are “the length of the delay, the reason for the delay, the defendant’s assertion of his right to a speedy trial, and prejudice to the defendant’s.” Barker, supra, at 530.  

None of the four factors is either a necessary or sufficient condition to the finding of a deprivation of the right to speedy trial.  "Rather, they are related factors and must be considered together with such other circumstances as may be relevant.” Barker, at 533.  

Dews argued that no balancing need take place because the delay was not justified by the prosecution at the trial court.  Dews argued that if the prosecution justifies the delay, only then may the court proceed to evaluate the other three Barker factors.

Dews based his argument on Bellante v. Superior Court (2010) 187 Cal. App. 4th Supp. 1. The appellate court noted that Bellante construed Serna to establish a three part test of whether the speedy trial right was denied.

The appellate court, however, stated that Bellante made an error in how it interpreted Serna, meaning Dews’ argument that the delay alone was dispositive, was wrong.

Nevertheless, the appellate court found that the trial court failed to properly apply the four Barker factors, so it remanded the matter to the trial court with express orders that it thoroughly analyze each of the four factors in re-valuating Dews’ motion to dismiss.

For more information about the right to a speedy trial, click on the following articles:
  1. Sixth Amendment Right to a Speedy Trial Not Violated When There Is a Seven Year Delay Between Arrest and Murder Trial
  2. Did the Prosecution Violate Your Sixth Amendment Right to a Speedy Trial? 
  3. Over Four Year Delay Before Filing First Degree Murder Charges Not Sufficient to Merit Dismissal

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