Doggett v. United States
505 U.S. 647 (1992)

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OCTOBER TERM, 1991

Syllabus

DOGGETT v. UNITED STATES

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT

No. 90-857. Argued October 9, 1991-Reargued February 24,1992Decided June 24, 1992

In February 1980, petitioner Doggett was indicted on federal drug charges, but he left the country before the Drug Enforcement Agency could secure his arrest. The DEA knew that he was later imprisoned in Panama, but after requesting that he be expelled back to the United States, never followed up on his status. Once the DEA discovered that he had left Panama for Colombia, it made no further attempt to locate him. Thus, it was unaware that he reentered this country in 1982 and subsequently married, earned a college degree, found steady employment, lived openly under his own name, and stayed within the law. The Marshal's Service eventually located him during a simple credit check on individuals with outstanding warrants. He was arrested in September 1988, 81/2 years after his indictment. He moved to dismiss the indictment on the ground that the Government's failure to prosecute him earlier violated his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial, but the District Court denied the motion, and he entered a conditional guilty plea. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: The delay between Doggett's indictment and arrest violated his right to a speedy trial. His claim meets the Barker v. Wingo, 407 U. S. 514, 530, criteria for evaluating speedy trial claims. First, the extraordinary 81/2-year lag between his indictment and arrest clearly suffices to trigger the speedy trial enquiry. Second, the Government was to blame for the delay. The District Court's finding that the Government was negligent in pursuing Doggett should be viewed with considerable deference, and neither the Government nor the record provides any reason to reject that finding. Third, Doggett asserted in due course his right to a speedy trial. The courts below found that he did not know of his indictment before his arrest, and, in the factual basis supporting his guilty plea, the Government essentially conceded this point. Finally, the negligent delay between Doggett's indictment and arrest presumptively prejudiced his ability to prepare an adequate defense. The Government errs in arguing that the Speedy Trial Clause does not significantly protect a defendant's interest in fair adjudication. United States v. Marion, 404 U. S. 307, 320-323; United States v. MacDonald, 456 U. S. 1, 8; United States v. Loud Hawk, 474 U. S. 302, 312, distin-


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guished. Nor does Doggett's failure to cite any specifically demonstrable prejudice doom his claim, since excessive delay can compromise a trial's reliability in unidentifiable ways. Presumptive prejudice is part of the mix of relevant Barker factors and increases in importance with the length of the delay. Here, the Government's egregious persistence in failing to prosecute Doggett is sufficient to warrant granting relief. The negligence caused delay six times as long as that generally deemed sufficient to trigger judicial review, and the presumption of prejudice is neither extenuated, as by Doggett's acquiescence, nor persuasively rebutted. Pp.651-658.

906 F.2d 573, reversed and remanded.

SOUTER, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, BLACKMUN, STEVENS, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 658. THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., and SCALIA, J., joined, post, p. 659.

Wm. J. Sheppard reargued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs was Elizabeth L. White.

Deputy Solicitor General Bryson reargued the cause for the United States. Assistant Attorney General Mueller argued the cause for the United States on the original argument. With them on the briefs were Solicitor General Starr, Ronald J. Mann, and Patty Merkamp Stemler.

JUSTICE SOUTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case we consider whether the delay of 81/2 years between petitioner's indictment and arrest violated his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. We hold that it did.

I

On February 22, 1980, petitioner Marc Doggett was indicted for conspiring with several others to import and distribute cocaine. See 84 Stat. 1265, 1291, as amended, 21 U. S. C. §§ 846, 963. Douglas Driver, the Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA's) principal agent investigating the conspiracy, told the United States Marshal's Service that the DEA would oversee the apprehension of Doggett and his confederates. On March 18, 1980, two police officers set out


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