United States v. Taylor
487 U.S. 326 (1988)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Taylor, 487 U.S. 326 (1988)

United States v. Taylor

No. 87-573

Argued April 25, 1988

Decided June 24, 1988

487 U.S. 326

Syllabus

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.

Held:

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. 487 U. S. 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. 487 U. S. 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 articulate

Page 487 U. S. 327

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. 487 U. S. 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. 487 U. S. 337-343.

821 F.2d 1377, 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. 487 U. S. 344. SCALIA, J., filed an opinion concurring in part, post, p. 487 U. S. 344. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 487 U. S. 346.

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