ZEDNER v. UNITED STATES (No. 05-5992)
April 18, 2006 -- Decided: June 5, 2006 Opinion author: Alito
Speedy Trial Act of 1974 (Act) generally requires a federal criminal trial to
begin within 70 days after a defendant is charged or makes an initial
appearance. 18 U. S. C. sec. 3161(c)(1). Recognizing that criminal cases vary
widely and that there are valid reasons for greater delay in particular cases,
the Act includes a long and detailed list of periods of delay that are excluded
in computing the time within which trial must start. Section
permits a district court to grant a continuance and exclude the resulting delay
if it makes on-the-record findings that the ends of justice served by granting
the continuance outweigh the public's and defendant's interests in a speedy
trial. To promote compliance without needlessly subverting important criminal
prosecutions, the Act provides that, if the trial does not begin on time and
the defendant moves, before the trial's start or entry of a guilty plea, to
dismiss, the district court must dismiss the charges, though it may choose
whether to do so with or without prejudice.
April 1996, petitioner was indicted on charges arising from his attempt to open
accounts using counterfeit United States bonds. The District Court granted two
see sec. 3161(h)(8). When, at a November
status conference, petitioner requested another delay to January 1997, the
court suggested that petitioner waive the application of the Act 'for all
time,' and produced a preprinted waiver form for petitioner to sign. At a
January 31, 1997, status conference, the court granted petitioner another
continuance so that he could attempt to authenticate the bonds, but made no
mention of the Act and no findings to support excluding the 91 days between
January 31 and petitioner's next court appearance on May 2 (1997 continuance).
years later, petitioner filed a motion to dismiss the indictment for failure to
comply with the Act, which the District Court denied based on the waiver 'for
all time.' In a 2003 trial, petitioner was convicted. The Second Circuit
affirmed. Acknowledging that a defendant's waiver of rights under the Act may
be ineffective because of the public interest served by compliance with the
Act, the court found an exception for situations when the defendant causes or
contributes to the delay. It also suggested that the District Court could have
properly excluded the 91-day period based on the ends of justice, given the
case's complexity and the defense's request for additional time to prepare.
Because a defendant may not prospectively waive the application of the Act,
petitioner's waiver 'for all time'
ineffective. Pp. 9-12.
The Act comprehensively regulates the time within which a trial must begin.
Section 3161(h), which details numerous categories of delay that are not
counted in applying the Act's deadlines, conspicuously has no provision
excluding periods of delay during which a defendant waives the Act's
application. It is apparent from the Act's terms that this was a considered
omission. Instead of allowing defendants to opt out, the Act demands that
continuances fit within one of sec. 3161(h)'s specific exclusions. In deciding
whether to grant an ends-of-justice continuance, a court must consider a
defendant's need for 'reasonable time to obtain counsel,' 'continuity of
counsel,' and 'effective preparation' of counsel. sec. 3161(h)(8)(B)(iv). If a
defendant could simply waive the Act's application in order to secure more
time, no defendant would ever need to put such considerations before the court
under the rubric of an ends-of-justice exclusion. The Act's purposes also cut
against exclusion on the grounds of mere consent or waiver. Were the Act solely
designed to protect a defendant's right to a speedy trial, such an application
might make sense, but the Act was also designed with the public interest firmly
interpretation is entirely in accord with the Act's legislative history. Pp.
This Court rejects the District Court's reliance on sec. 3162(a)(2), which
provides that a defendant whose trial does not begin on time is deemed to have
waived the right to move for dismissal if that motion is not filed prior to
trial or entry of a guilty plea. That section makes no mention of prospective waivers,
and there is no reason to think that Congress wanted to treat prospective and
retrospective waivers similarly. Allowing prospective waivers would seriously
undermine the Act because, in many cases, the prosecution, defense, and court
would all like to opt out, to the detriment of the public interest. Section
3162(a)(2)'s retrospective waiver does not pose a comparable danger. Because
the prosecution and court cannot know until the trial starts or the guilty plea
is entered whether the defendant will forgo moving to dismiss, they retain a
strong incentive to make sure the trial begins on time.
Petitioner is not estopped from challenging the excludability under the Act of
the 1997 continuance. Factors that 'typically inform the decision whether to
apply the [estoppel] doctrine in a particular case' include (1) whether 'a
party's later position [is] clearly inconsistent with its earlier position';
'whether the party has succeeded in persuading a court to accept that … earlier
position'; and (3) 'whether the party seeking to assert an inconsistent
position would derive an unfair advantage or impose an unfair detriment on the
opposing party if not estopped.' New Hampshire v.
532 U. S. 742 . None of the three possible 'positions'
by petitioner gives rise to an estoppel. First, recognizing an estoppel based
on petitioner's promise not to move for dismissal under sec. 3162(a)(2) would
entirely swallow the Act's no-waiver policy. Second, petitioner's (mistaken)
agreement that waivers are enforceable does not provide a ground for estoppel
because petitioner did not 'succee[d] in persuading' the District Court to
accept the validity of prospective waivers. On the contrary, the District Court
requested the waiver and produced the form for petitioner to sign. Even if the
other factors favor estoppel, they do not predominate. Finally, petitioner's
representation at the January 31 status conference that a continuance was
needed to gather evidence of the bonds' authenticity does not support estoppel
because that position was not 'clearly inconsistent' with the position that he
now takes in seeking dismissal, i.e., that delay from that continuance was not
excluded under the Act. Nothing in the discussion at the conference suggests
that the question presented by the continuance request was viewed as anything
other than a case-management question laying entirely within the District
Court's discretion. Pp. 12-15.
When a district court makes no findings on the record to support a sec. 3161(h)(8)
continuance, harmless-error review is not appropriate. The Government argues
that an express finding need not be entered contemporaneously and could be
supplied on remand. But the Act requires express findings, see sec.
3161(h)(8)(A), and at the very least implies that those findings must be put on
the record by the time the district court rules on the motion to dismiss.
the District Court made no such express findings, the 1997 continuance is not
excluded from the speedy trial clock. This error is not subject to
review under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure
presumptively applies to 'all errors where a proper objection is made,' Neder
v. United States, 527 U. S. 1 , but strong support for an implied repeal of
Rule 52(a) in this context is provided by the Act's unequivocal provisions,
which specify that a trial 'shall commence' within 70 days, sec. 3161(c)(1)
(emphasis added), and that '[n]o … period of delay' from an ends-of-justice
continuance 'shall be excludable' from the time period unless the court sets
forth its reasoning, sec. 3161(h)(8)(A) (emphasis added).
harmless-error review would also tend to undermine the detailed requirements of
the provisions regulating ends-of-justice continuances. Pp. 15-18.
Because the 91-day continuance, which was not excluded from the speedy trial
clock, exceeded the maximum 70-day delay, the Act was violated, and there is no
need to address whether other periods of delay were not excludable. The District
Court may determine in the first instance whether the dismissal in this case
should be with or without prejudice.
3d 36, reversed and remanded.
J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Stevens,
Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, Ginsburg, and Breyer, JJ., joined, and in which
Scalia, J., joined as to all but Part III-A-2. Scalia, J., filed an opinion
concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.