Federal Appeals Court Determines Sixth Amendment Speedy Trial Rights Belong To The Defendant Not The Defense Attorney: Where Client And Attorney Disagree, The Trial Court Is Bound By The Assertions Of The Defendant

United States v. Tigano

Second Circuit Court of Appeals

Decided on January 23, 2018

Docket No.: 15-3073

Where a defendant and his attorney disagree on whether to waive speedy trial rights, the assertions of the defendant are controlling because speedy trial rights belong to the defendant, not his attorney.

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Issue: Whether the Government violated the Sixth Amendment Speedy Trial rights of the defendant where his trial was delayed by more than seven years and where defense attorney and defendant disagreed on whether to waive his speedy trial rights.

Holding: The Sixth Amendment Speedy Trial Rights of the Defendant were violated where numerous delays caused by the Court, the government and his attorney caused the delay. Most importantly, the Second Circuit established an important rule that where the defendant and his attorney disagree as to whether or not to waive speedy trial rights, the wishes of the defendant must be observed by the court because the right to a speedy trial belongs to the defendant, not to the defense attorney.

Facts: Joseph Tigano and his father were arrested in the Western District of New York on charges relating to a marijuana growing enterprise under 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(A). The arrest took place on July 8, 2008 when the DEA discovered over 1,400 marijuana plants at Tigano’s residence.   Tigano and his father were indicted on six counts each. About five years later on November 25, 2013 the father pled guilty to one count of manufacturing 50 or more marijuana plants. Tigano, however, proceeded to trial nearly seven years after his arrest in May of 2015. He had been imprisoned for almost the entire seven years that he was waiting for trial. Tigano filed a Writ of Habeas Corpus and was denied.  On appeal, Tigano argued that his speedy trial rights were violated by the oppressive period of pretrial incarceration. Tigano’s pretrial detention had been the longest ever pretrial incarceration in Second Circuit history.

Legal Analysis:

The right to a speedy trial is as fundamental as any of the rights secured 6 by the Sixth Amendment.” Klopfer, 386 U.S. at 223. Its origin in our legal system 7 dates back over 800 years and it was understood as part of the essential 8 safeguards against the newly formed government of the United States. Further, 9 while a defendant may waive his statutory right to a speedy trial by failing to 10 raise it, he cannot waive his constitutional right.

In 1972, the Supreme Court decided Barker v. Wingo, a Sixth Amendment speedy trial case.  The Barker Court established 10 the four‐part balancing test that guides our analysis today. Specifically, the Supreme Court identified four key factors: “[l]ength of delay, the reason for the delay, the defendant’s assertion of his right, and prejudice to the defendant.” Id. at 530.  In establishing this balancing test, the Barker Court emphasized that: We regard none of the four factors identified above as either a necessary or sufficient condition to the finding of a deprivation of the right of speedy trial. Rather, they are related factors and must be considered together with such other circumstances as may be relevant. In sum, these factors have no talismanic qualities; courts must still engage in a difficult and sensitive balancing process. But, because we are dealing with a fundamental right of the accused, this process must be carried out with full recognition that the accusedʹs interest in a speedy trial is specifically affirmed in the Constitution.

In its analysis regarding length of delay, the Second Circuit noted that the 7-year delay was the longest in Second Circuit history and cuts in favor of Tigano. The reasons for the delay were due to needless competency exams, administrative delays, the government’s failure to produce a plea offer, the district court’s congested docket, multiple magistrate judges being assigned to the case, and defense counsel’s desire to delay in the hopes of a more favorable offer.  The Second Circuit held that the pretrial incarceration was a violation of his Speedy Trial rights under the Sixth Amendment. The delay was due to poor trial management and general indifference at every level: it was countless small choices and neglects, which together amounted to the injustice suffered by Tigano and created the violation of the Sixth Amendment.

The Right To A Speedy Trial Belongs To The Defendant, Not To The Defense Attorney

At nearly every court appearance, Tigano asserted his speedy trial rights and refused to waive his right to a speedy trial. Tigano’s assertions were often contradicted by his attorney. It is significant that the Second Circuit found that even where a defendant’s trial attorney contradicts the defendant regarding the assertion of the right to a speedy trial right, the right to a speedy trial belongs to the defendant, not to defendant’s counsel.

In Determining Speedy Trial Rights The Court Must Consider The Four Barker Factors And Prejudice Is Always A Component In The Analysis Of Speedy Trial Rights


Prejudice should be assessed in regard to those interests the Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial is designed to protect, namely, “(i) to prevent oppressive pretrial incarceration; (ii) to minimize anxiety and concern of the accused; and (iii) to limit the possibility that the defense will be impaired.” Barker, 407 U.S. at 532. While the last factor is “the most serious,” it is only one of three interests protected by the Sixth Amendment right to speedy trial.

Affirmative proof of impairment of the defense is not required in order to find a Sixth Amendment violation. See, e.g., Doggett v. U.S., 505 U.S. 647, 655 (1992) (“affirmative proof of particularized prejudice is not essential to every speedy trial claim”) (citation omitted).   Tigano was severely prejudiced in terms of the first two factors. His nearly seven years of pretrial incarceration were egregiously oppressive; Nearly seven years of pretrial detention in local jails—before the defendant has been convicted of any crime—is precisely the type of prejudice contemplated by the right to a speedy trial. Tigano amply demonstrates prejudice on this point.

The second interest protected by the Sixth Amendment right to a speedy 16 trial is the interest in minimizing the “anxiety and concern” of the accused. Id., 407 U.S. at 532. On this point, Tigano was severely prejudiced. Tigano repeatedly expressed his anxiety to the district court and explicitly cited that anxiety as the primary motivation for his desire for a speedy trial

The court is required to apply a balancing test in weighing the four Barker factors. Weighing the four Barker factors leads us to the inescapable conclusion that Tigano’s Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial was violated by his nearly seven years of pretrial incarceration. The reasons for delay fall largely on the district court and government attorneys. Tigano’s repeated assertions of his right to a speedy trial place him on the extreme end of our Circuit’s case law. His repeated pleas for trial also speak to the fourth and final prong, the prejudice suffered by Tigano in the form of anxiety and the oppressiveness of his lengthy period of pretrial incarceration. The only remedy is to dismiss the case with prejudice.