State v. Stuart, 38 Fla. L. Weekly D11119a (Fla. 2d DCA May 22, 2013):  Charges were filed against Defendant in 2009.  Fourteen months later, in 2011, Defendant was arrested.  The State delayed in proceeding to “protect the confidential informant’s idenity.”

Defendant moved to dismiss the charges because the State unreasonably delayed in charging and arresting him. He contended that the delays prejudiced his defense; he could no longer remember what he was doing at the times of the alleged transactions, and the recollections of any potential alibi witnesses would be stale. He also argued that the delays hindered his ability to obtain evidence, including potentially exculpatory cell phone records.

The Florida appeal court analyzed the delay in prosecuting the defendant thusly:

Prearrest Delay — Due Process Violation

In evaluating whether prearrest delay violates due process, the trial court must balance the reasons for the delay against the prejudice, if any, to the defendant. Howell, 418 So. 2d at 1170 (citing United States v. Lovasco, 431 U.S. 783 (1977); Marion, 404 U.S. 307). Howell described three categories of delay: deliberate, negligent, and justified. 418 So. 2d at 1171-73 (citing United States v. Avalos, 541 F.2d 1100, 1111-14 (5th Cir. 1976)). “[I]ntentional delay include[s] forum-shopping, harassment of the defendant, or delay to gain a tactical advantage.” Id. at 1172 (citing Avalos, 541 F.2d at 1111-12). Negligent delay “includes delays attributable to such factors as an overcrowded court docket.” Id. (citing Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 531 (1972)). Justified delay occurs where the State undergoes “considerable legitimate difficulty” in bringing the case to trial timely. Id. Here, the trial court correctly concluded that the prearrest delay was justified by the need to protect the confidential informant’s identity for ongoing investigations.

Speedy Trial Violation

In examining whether the delay between Mr. Stuart’s arrest and the hearing on his motions to dismiss violated his right to a speedy trial, the trial court must balance four factors: “(1) whether the length of the delay is presumptively prejudicial; (2) the reason for the delay; (3) whether the appellant has timely asserted his rights; and (4) whether actual prejudice has resulted from the delay.” State v. Union, 469 So. 2d 840, 841 (Fla. 2d DCA 1985); see Kennedy v. Bonnano, 571 So. 2d 14, 15 (Fla. 2d DCA 1990). The length of the delay is a “threshold triggering mechanism,” and the court need not consider the other factors unless the delay is so long as to be presumptively prejudicial. Howell, 418 So. 2d at 1171 (citing State v. Bonamy, 409 So. 2d 518, 519 (Fla. 5th DCA 1982)); compare Union, 469 So. 2d at 840 (holding fifteen-month prearrest delay and seventeen-month delay from filing of information until hearing on motion to dismiss presumptively prejudicial); and Howell, 418 So. 2d at 1171 (holding fourteen-and-one-half-month delay from information until hearing presumptively prejudicial)with State v. Borges, 467 So. 2d 375, 378 (Fla. 2d DCA 1985) (holding eight-and-one-half-month delay not presumptively prejudicial).

The trial court considered the four factors and found that (1) the postarrest delay was “somewhat presumptively prejudicial”; (2) the State asserted no valid reason, and thus the delay was negligent; (3) Mr. Stuart, by waiting a year to file his motion to dismiss, failed to timely assert his rights; and (4) Mr. Stuart’s claim of prejudice from the passage of time regarding faded memories was vague and suggested merely possible prejudice. See Union, 469 So. 2d at 841-42. Penultimately, however, the trial court concluded that the aggregated delays, combined with the State’s failure to divulge the Eric Long information, resulted in actual prejudice. The trial court reasoned that this delay violated Mr. Stuart’s due process rights because he could no longer craft a misidentification defense.

The court erred in this conclusion. . . .

The rule of law is that a defendant has to show how any delay actually and materially prejudiced his defense.

Editor’s note: this analysis is not to be confused with procedural speedy trial constraints, found in Rule 3.191.