Friday, July 16, 2010

State ex rel. Garcia v. Goldman [1]

Opinion handed down July 16, 2010
Link to Mo. Sup. Ct. Opinion

The Supreme Court of Missouri held that a seven-year period between when the defendant was indicted and when he was arrested for first degree assault violated his constitutional right to a speedy trial, reasoning that too many witnesses and too many years had slipped away for the state to show that the defense was unimpaired.

I. Facts and Holding

In April 1998, at the Sunny China Buffet in Kirkwood, Missouri, a man entered the kitchen to talk to one of the employees, left, returned a few minutes later with a shotgun, and shot Rigoberto Dominguez, one of the employees.[2] Fortunately, Dominguez survived the attack.[3] Another employee, Meliton Gonzalez, followed the shooter who fled out the door and into a brown coupe.[4] Gonzalez was able to identify the shooter as Garcia, and both Dominguez and Manuel Castro, another employee, also identified the shooter as Garcia.[5]

The police interviewed Dominguez, who told the police that he believed Garcia had shot him because he had been talking about Garcia’s girlfriend.[6] The police also interviewed Nabor Garcia (Garcia’s cousin and roommate), Jesus Rojas, and Moises Aguilar.[7] The police found a shotgun hidden in the bushes outside the restaurant near the door to the kitchen, took photographs of the crime scene, and diagrammed the crime scene.[8] The police also conducted additional interviews of Nabor Garcia and Gonzalez.[9] These two interviews were videotaped; however, the videotapes had since been lost.[10] The police were able to acquire “Garcia’s date of birth, driver’s license number, social security number, and address.”[11] Police were also told that it was possible that Garcia might go to California or Illinois.[12] However, police were unable to find Garcia during this initial investigation.[13]

Three years later, because the statute of limitations for the crime was about to run, the prosecuting attorney’s office had the police try again to locate Garcia.[14] The police, using information on Garcia’s whereabouts that they had acquired during the initial investigation, dispatched an officer to some of the communities in north and central St. Louis for four days in late February or early March 2001.[15] However, these attempts to locate Garcia were unsuccessful.[16]

In February 2002, Garcia was charged by indictment with first-degree assault.[17] After this, the police made no further efforts to locate Garcia for approximately seven years and had declared the case “cold.”[18] Nonetheless, in 2009, Detective Steve Urbeck tried to find Garcia by entering his social security number into a computer search system.[19] The search yielded a Chicago address for Garcia.[20] After contacting Chicago police, it was discovered that Garcia was working at a Chicago hotel.[21] “Garcia was living openly in Chicago, using his actual name, date of birth and social security number since at least 2002 or before.”[22] Garcia was arrested in February 2009.[23] Garcia alleged that his constitutional right to a speedy trial had been violated and filed a motion to dismiss the indictment.[24]

First, the court found that “the social security number could have been used to locate Garcia in 2002 or before.[25] Garcia filed tax returns from 2000 to 2008 using his real information.[26] He opened several credit card accounts and obtained a Missouri driver’s license using his St. Louis address.”[27] Second, the court found that “Garcia knew that there were witnesses at the scene of the shooting, that police would be searching for him, that he fled his home address, and that there was no evidence that Garcia was aware of the indictment or arrest warrant.”[28] Third, the court found that “the police did not use reasonable diligence to find Garcia.”[29]

Both parties also stipulated a number of facts, including that Nabor Garcia, Moises Aguilar, Manuel Castro, and Jesus Rojas were no longer available because they could not be found, the videotaped statements of Nabor Garcia and Meliton Gonzalez were unavailable, and that the crime scene, Sunny China Buffet, had been demolished two years before Garcia had been arrested.[30] The court applied a balancing test to this evidence and overruled Garcia’s motion to dismiss.[31]

Garcia then filed a petition for a writ of mandamus with the Supreme Court of Missouri.[32] The court, in a 4-3 decision, held that “[t]he seven-year delay between the indictment and Garcia’s arrest violates his right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” and as a result, “[t]he circuit court should have dismissed the indictment.”[33]

II. Legal Background

The Supreme Court of Missouri began by noting every criminal defendant’s right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.[34] The court stated that these protections attach “when there is a ‘formal indictment or information’ or when ‘actual restraints [are] imposed by arrest and holding to answer a criminal charge.’”[35] The court framed the issue as “whether the seven-year period between Garcia’s indictment and arrest violated his speedy trial rights.”[36]

In addressing this issue, the court applied a balancing test that had been established in Barker v. Wingo, a U.S. Supreme Court case, which weighed four factors: “[l]ength of delay, the reason for the delay, the defendant’s assertion of his right, and prejudice to the defendant.”[37]

A. Length of Delay

The first factor the court addressed was “length of delay.”[38] The court refers to this factor as the “triggering mechanism,” because until this factor is present, the other factors need not be addressed.[39] In Missouri, a delay of more than eight months between an indictment and arrest is “presumptively prejudicial.”[40] In the present case, the length of delay was nearly seven years, and was therefore “presumptively prejudicial.”[41]

B. Reason for the Delay

The next factor addressed was the “reason for the delay.”[42] The court states that some reasons for a delay, such as a deliberate attempt by the state to delay trial, will be weighted more heavily than others, such as negligence, for example.[43] However, even those reasons that are weighted less heavily are still important to the analysis because “‘the ultimate responsibility for such circumstances must rest with the government rather than the defendant.’”[44]

In the present case, the court addressed whether the facts that Garcia had fled St. Louis after the shooting, knew that there were witnesses, and knew that the police were looking for him should be weighed against Garcia.[45] The State argued that because Garcia left St. Louis, he contributed to the delay.[46] In response, Garcia argued that the State produced no evidence to show that he had left St. Louis to avoid prosecution.[47]

The court determined that the reason for the delay weighed heavily against the State since the police only looked for Garcia on two brief occasions, Garcia lived openly in Chicago for five years, and the technique used to ultimately locate him could have been used at any time.[48] Furthermore, the court stated that since there was no evidence that Garcia knew of the indictment against him, this factor would not be weighed against him.[49]

C. Timely Assertion of Right

The next factor the court addressed was the “defendant’s timely assertion of his right.”[50] The court noted that Garcia asserted his right to a speedy trial ten months after he was arrested, and that both parties had agreed that this factor was favorable to Garcia.[51]

D. Prejudice to Defendant Resulting From the Delay

Finally, the court addressed the “prejudice to the defendant resulting from the delay.”[52] The court states that for this factor, there are three considerations to take into account when determining if the delay resulted in prejudice to the defendant: “(1) prevention of oppressive pretrial incarceration; (2) minimization of anxiety and concern of the accused; and (3) limitation of the possibility that the defense will be impaired.”[53] Out of those three considerations, the court noted that the third consideration is the most serious and that it was the only consideration that applied to the present case.[54]

Garcia argued that the disappearance of four witnesses, the loss of the videotaped interviews, and the demolition of the restaurant impaired his defense.[55] The State argued that Garcia had not presented any evidence to show actual prejudice.[56] The court acknowledged that “[g]enerally, prejudice must be ‘actual prejudice apparent on the record or be reasonable inference – not speculative or possible prejudice.’”[57] However, the court cited a U.S. Supreme Court decision, Doggett v. United States, in which the Court stated that negligence on the part of the State is not “‘automatically tolerable simply because the accused cannot demonstrate exactly how it has prejudiced him.’”[58] The Court went on to say that “‘affirmative proof of particularized prejudice is not essential to every speedy trial claim,’” and that “‘excessive delay presumptively compromises the reliability of a trial in ways that neither party can prove or, for that matter, identify.’”[59]

Applying the reasoning of Doggett, the Supreme Court of Missouri found that “the state has not proven that the delay ‘affirmatively left Garcia’s ability to defend himself unimpaired’ as required to rebut the presumption of prejudice.”[60] The court reasoned that since four of the seven witnesses to the shooting have since disappeared, and a fifth had never identified Garcia as the shooter, Garcia’s ability to defend himself would be prejudiced.[61] The testimony of the remaining two witnesses would have been of events that they witnessed over twelve years ago.[62] Based on all of this the court reasoned that “[t]oo many witnesses and too many years have slipped away for the state” to show that Garcia’s defense was unimpaired.[63] As a result, the court held that “the seven-year delay between the indictment and Garcia’s arrest violates his right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”[64]

III. Dissent

Chief Justice William Ray Price, Jr. dissented from the court’s opinion, and was joined by Justices Breckenridge and Fischer.[65] Chief Justice Price argues that “[b]ecause Garcia deliberately fled the state, he is the principal cause of the police’s delay in locating him. Therefore, he was required to show that actual prejudice resulted from the delay, and he was unable to do so.”[66]

The Chief Justice frames the second Barker factor as “‘whether the government or the defendant is more to blame for the delay.”[67] The Chief Justice believes that this factor unquestionably weighs in favor of the State because “[Garcia] left the jurisdiction. Garcia knew he was suspected of shooting Dominguez at a Chinese restaurant in front of witnesses who could identify him. He knew police would be looking for him. Still, he fled to Chicago.”[68]

Addressing the fourth factor of the Barker test, the Chief Justice states that “Garcia made no attempt to show actual prejudice.”[69] The Chief Justice notes that although some witnesses are now unavailable, statements have gone missing, and the crime scene has since been demolished, since it is the State that has to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, “it is difficult to see how the disappearance of the government’s key witness will prejudice Garcia” absent a specific showing.[70] As the Chief Justice puts it, the delay in this case “‘is a two-edged sword.’”[71]

The Chief Justice concludes that the second and fourth factors of the Barker test weigh in favor of the State, and therefore, Garcia’s right to a speedy trial had not been violated.[72]

IV. Comment

In State ex. rel Garcia, the Supreme Court of Missouri correctly applied the totality of the circumstances and balancing test of Barker v. Wingo to arrive at their holding.[73] Yet, the court’s analysis the ‘reason for the delay’ factor of the balancing test appears to be unsound, as Chief Justice Price addresses in his dissent.[74] While the facts that the police only looked for Garcia immediately after the shooting and for a few days in 2001, that Garcia lived openly and notoriously in Chicago since 2002, and that the process that was eventually used to find him could have been used at anytime during this delay should weigh heavily against the State, the court seems to easily dismiss the idea that the defendant helped to contribute to the delay as well.

Although the court noted that no evidence was presented that the defendant was aware of the indictment and was trying to evade it by fleeing, it seems reasonable to draw an inference that, at least initially, the defendant’s actions of fleeing the jurisdiction after committing an assault was done for the reason of escaping prosecution. Therefore, this factor should have weighed against the defendant to at least some degree. However, when considering the totality of the facts presented, the majority of the factors still weigh against the State and for that reason the balancing test was correctly applied.

Police and prosecutors must now beware in cases where there is a long delay between the charging of and the arrest of a defendant, since negligence by the State will not be tolerated even if the defendant cannot demonstrate exactly how the delay prejudiced him or her. The State, therefore, must ensure that the police act diligently throughout the investigation and use all resources available at the outset of the case to continue to search for the defendant following the initial investigation. Otherwise, it seems clear that a lengthy delay will be deemed presumptively prejudicial to the defendant and difficult for the State to rebut.

-Adam J. Wallach

[1] 316 S.W.3d 907 (Mo. 2010) (en banc).
[2] Id. at 909.
[3] Id.
[4] Id.
[5] Id.
[6] Id.
[7] Id.
[8] Id.
[9] Id.
[10] Id.
[11] Id.
[12] Id.
[13] Id.
[14] Id. at 910.
[15] Id.
[16] Id.
[17] Id.
[18] Id.
[19] Id.
[20] Id.
[21] Id.
[22] Id.
[23] Id.
[24] Id.
[25] Id.
[26] Id.
[27] Id.
[28] Id.
[29] Id.
[30] Id.
[31] Id.
[32] Id.
[33] Id.
[34] Id. at 910-11. See U.S. Const. amend. VI. The Sixth Amendment is incorporated and applies to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment. See U.S. Const. amend. XIV.
[35] Garcia, 316 S.W.3d at 911 (quoting State of Missouri v. Bolin, 643 S.W.2d 806, 813 (Mo. 1983) (en banc)).
[36] Id.
[37] Id. See Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 530 (1972) (holding that when a defendant was not seriously prejudiced by a five-year delay between arrest and trial, the defendant did not want a speedy trial, and four years of the waiting period was because the prosecution wanted to first try his accomplice so the testimony would be available for defendant’s trial, the trial did not violate defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial).
[38] Garcia, 316 S.W.3d at 911.
[39] Id.
[40] Id.
[41] Id.
[42] Id.
[43] Id.
[44] Id. (quoting Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 531 (1972)).
[45] Id.
[46] Id.
[47] Id.
[48] Id. at 912.
[49] Id.
[50] Id.
[51] Id.
[52] Id.
[53] Id.
[54] Id.
[55] Id.
[56] Id.
[57] Id. (quoting State v. Edwards, 750 S.W.2d 438, 442 (Mo. banc. 1988)).
[58] Id. (quoting Doggett v. United States, 505 U.S. 647, 657 (1992) (holding that a delay of eight and a half years between the defendant’s indictment and arrest violated his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial)).
[59] Id. at 913 (quoting Doggett, 505 U.S. at 655).
[60] Id.
[61] Id.
[62] Id.
[63] Id.
[64] Id. at 913-14.
[65] Id. at 914.
[66] Id.
[67] Id.
[68] Id.
[69] Id. at 915.
[70] Id.
[71] Id.
[72] Id.
[73] See id. at 913.
[74] Id. at 914.