The Journal of The DuPage County Bar Association

Back Issues > Vol. 13 (2000-01)

NIU's Northern Exposure
How Long is Too Long: Defining What is Undue Delay in Right to Speedy Trial Cases

By Lisa M. Matich

Editor’s Note: This article is published in connection with the Brief’s cooperative program with Northern Illinois University College of Law and the NIU Law Review. Under this program, NIU students regularly submit articles to the Brief so as to avail themselves of an opportunity to have their work published. Readers of the Brief will benefit from scholarly articles on topics of current interest.

The Illinois Supreme Court decided People v. Crane on January 19, 2001. (2001 WL 43966 (Ill.).) The issue on appeal was whether the state violated Anthony’s Crane’s right to a speedy trial when there was a 26-month delay between his initial trial and his subsequent retrial. After balancing the factors laid out in the United States Supreme Court case of Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (1972), the Illinois Supreme Court determined that Mr. Crane’s constitutional and statutory rights had not been violated.

On October 31, 1989, Anthony Crane was arrested for drug possession. Crane, 2001 WL 43966 at *1. While he was in custody, he was questioned about a robbery and arson murder which occurred earlier that month. The day after his arrest, Crane gave the Assistant State’s Attorney a written statement confessing to the robbery and arson murder. He was subsequently indicted, tried and convicted of aggravated arson and first degree murder. Crane was sentenced to natural life imprisonment.

Crane appealed his conviction and, on May 28, 1993, his conviction was overturned by the appellate court. Id. at *1. The appellate court found there was not enough evidence for the requisite probable cause for his arrest. The matter was remanded for a new trial.

After Crane’s conviction was overturned, the State filed an appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court. When that petition was denied on October 6, 1993, the State petitioned the United States Supreme Court. The United States Supreme Court denied certiorari on February 28, 1994. Upon this denial, the appellate court’s mandate should have been reissued, but in fact, the mandate was not transmitted to the trial court until February 2, 1995. Id. at *1.

Crane made his first appearance for his retrial on March 15, 1995. Id. at *2. The trial was set for May 31, 1995; however, the State continued the trial until July 31, 1995. At that time, Crane moved for a dismissal of the case alleging a violation of his constitutional and statutory rights to a speedy retrial . His motion was denied on September 7, 1995, and the trial commenced on October 15, 1996. He was again found guilty, and sentenced to a term of seventy-five years for the murder conviction and a concurrent term of thirty years for the aggravated arson. Although there was a 13-month delay between the denial of his motion and the trial, Crane did not renew his speedy-trial claim.

Once again the appellate court reversed Crane’s convictions, again holding that his right to a speedy retrial had been violated. The State appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court. Id. at *2.

There are two separate but interrelated rights involved in this case. The first is a defendant’s constitutional right to a speedy trial. Both the United States Constitution under the Sixth Amendment and the Illinois Constitution under Article 1, Section 8 provide that the right to a speedy trial is a fundamental right. See U.S. Const., amend. VI (“[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial”); Ill. Const.1970, art. I, § 8 (“[i]n criminal prosecutions, the accused shall have the right . . . to have a speedy public trial by an impartial jury”). The right to a speedy trial is also found in the Illinois Code of Criminal Procedure. See 725. ILCS 5/103-5 (West 1998). The statutory right to a speedy trial specifies certain time periods within which a defendant must be brought to trial. Crane, 2001 WL 43966 at * 3. The statute is in place to prevent the constitutional claim from arising except in cases involving prolonged delay or novel issues.

Crane claimed that his statutory right to a speedy trial had been violated in this case. Crane, 2001 WL 43966 at *4 n.2. The appellate court made no explicit finding on this issue, but did find that no statutory violation occurred when it ruled that Crane shared responsibility for at least three months of the delay since the reinstatement of the mandate. The Illinois Supreme Court held that when a defendant prevails in an Illinois court of review, a new statutory 120-day term will commence running when the mandate issues and is docketed in the trial court. In this case, the mandate issued on February 2, 1995, and Crane did not move for dismissal until almost six months later, on July 31, 1995. Since the appellate court ruled that Crane was responsible for at least three months of the delay, this extinguished his statutory claim. Id.

The United States Supreme Court had occasion to decide the issue of what constitutes an unreasonable delay of the right to a speedy trial in Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (1972). The Supreme Court stated that the right to a speedy trial is a vague concept, making it impossible to determine with precision when the right has been denied. In its decision, the Supreme Court set forth four factors which it said should be balanced when determining whether a delay by the State is an unreasonable delay amounting to a violation of the defendant’s rights: (1) length of the delay; (2) the reason for the delay; (3) defendant’s assertion to a speedy trial; and (4) prejudice to the defendant. Id. at 530. The Illinois Supreme Court dealt with each of these factors in turn.

Prior to its analysis, the Illinois Supreme Court stated that when resolving a constitutional speedy-trial claim, any factual determinations made by the trial court, which are contained in the record, shall be upheld on review unless they are against the manifest weight of the evidence. Crane, 2001 WL 436966 at *5. This was based on previous Illinois decisions resolving constitutional speedy trial claims. See People v. Kliner, 705 N.E.2d 850 (Ill. 1998); People v. Turner, 539 N.E.2d 1196 (Ill. 1989). The Crane court went on to hold that when a trial court performs the Barker balancing tests, there is no need for deference to this decision by the trial court; the ultimate determination of whether a defendant’s constitutional speedy-trial right has been violated is subject to de novo review. Crane, 2001 WL 436966 at *5.

The Illinois Supreme Court began its analysis with the first and second Barker factors, the length of the delay and the reasonableness of the delay. Crane, 2001 WL 436966 at *6. The court noted that some delay is expected and justifiable, but a speedy-trial inquiry will not be triggered unless the delay is considered presumptively prejudicial. See Doggett v. United States, 505 U.S. 647 (1992). The threshold for a delay being presumptively prejudicial has generally been held to be any delay approaching a year. See Barker, 407 U.S. at 530-531; People v. Lock, 266 Ill.App.3d 185, 640 N.E.2d 334 (1994).

Because of the numerous steps in Crane’s case, the court evaluated three separate stages in the case when looking at the length of delay and its reasonableness. The first stage was the delay between the State’s first appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court and its petition for review to theUnited States Supreme Court, which last a total of nine months (May 28, 1993 to February 28, 1994). Crane, 2001 WL 436966 at *7. The court stated that there is an important public interest in allowing the State to appeal trial court decisions, and that it is a valid reason for delay. When assessing the purpose and reasonableness for the appeal, the courts look at the strength of the government’s position, the importance of the issue in the posture of the case, and the seriousness of the crime. See United States v. Loud Hawk, 474 U.S. 302 (1986).

In Crane’s case, the Illinois Supreme Court discussed the value of a confession as a piece of evidence and that the suppression of such evidence could compromise the State’s case, and that it was therefore appropriate that the State seek review before beginning the retrial of Crane. The court also stated that this delay was only nine months, and that since the appeal was filed in good faith, the delay was not unreasonable. Crane, 2001 WL 436966 at *7-8.

The second factor the Illinois Supreme Court looked at was the time between the denial of certiorari of the State’s appeal to the United States Supreme Court and when the appellate court’s mandate was reissued (February 28, 1994 to February 2, 1995). Crane, 2001 WL 436966 at *8. The court held that the mandate should have been reissued within a reasonable time after the appeals had been exhausted. The only excuse for this delay was administrative error. Administrative error was not wholly accepted by the court as a reasonable excuse, and the court considered the error as negligent. See also Doggett, 505 U.S. at 657. The court found this delay to be unreasonable, but it reserved complete judgment until it had looked at it in conjunction with the other Barker factors.

The third stage discussed in the opinion was the time frame from February 2, 1995 to July 31, 1995, the six months between the time of the reissuing of the mandate and when Crane moved for a dismissal. Crane, 2001 WL 436966 at *8-9. It was during this six months that both sides were preparing for trial. The defendant did take responsibility for three months of the six month delay, and the State admitted its responsibility for the remaining three months. Since the defendant was only delayed, in actuality, three months by the State, the appellate found that the delay was reasonable, and the Illinois Supreme Court agreed.

The Illinois Supreme Court went on to discuss the third Barker factor, the defendant’s assertion of his right to a speedy trial. Crane, 2001 WL 436966 at *9. Crane’s demand of this right was not made until May 1995, which was 24 months after the reversal of his first conviction. What troubled the court in Crane’s case was that by not asserting his right earlier he, in essence, acquiesced to the State’s 24 months of inaction. His silence did not mean, however, that a court may assume the defendant’s waiver of his right. See Barker, 407 U.S. at 525-530. His failure to assert his right, however, could be a factor to be weighed in the Barker balancing test. Although Crane’s first conviction was overturned, he was incarcerated the entire time while awaiting a retrial that he knew the State was planning to commence. The Illinois Supreme Court did factor in the fact that Crane knew about his impending retrial for 24 months while he sat in prison, and at no time during those 24 months did he assert his right to a speedy trial.

The final Barker factor considered by the Supreme Court was prejudice to the defendant. Crane, 2001 WL 436966 at *10. The court said that prejudice should be assessed in the light of the interests of the defendant, which the speedy trial right was designed to protect. The interests of the defendant include the prevention of oppressive pretrial incarceration, the minimization of the defendant’s anxiety and concern about the impending charge, and the limitation of the possibility that the defense will be impaired by the delay. See Barker, 407 U.S. at 532; People v. Moore, 263 Ill.App.3d 1, 635 N.E.2d 507 (1994). The Illinois Supreme Court in this case focused on the fact that Crane did not present any evidence that his defense was impaired by the delay. The court did not ignore the fact that Crane was imprisoned for 24 months, and stated that this impairment of his liberty was a concern. His pretrial detention is the specific type of prejudice that the right to a speedy trial was designed to protect against, and the court therefore held that this factor weighed heavily against the State. Crane, 2001 WL 436966 at *10.

After discussing all four factors of the Barker test and their applicability to this case, the Illinois Supreme Court had to balance the factors to decide whether or not Crane had been denied his right to a speedy trial. Crane, 2001 WL 436966 at *10. The court specifically pointed out that the factors are interrelated and that a constitutional violation will not be conditioned on the presence or absence of any single factor. See Barker, 407 U.S. at 533. The court analyzed the 24-month delay and found that 15 out of the 24 months constituted a justifiable delay by the State. Crane, 2001 WL 436966 at *11.
The Court, however, held that the remaining 11 months did constitute an unjustifiable delay since it was due to an administrative error. Although the Court found the 11-month delay unjustifiable, when looking at the seriousness of the crime involved, 11 months was not an extraordinary amount of delay. See also Barker, 407 U.S. at 531. After deciding that the delay of 11 months was not extraordinary, the Court looked together at the factors of prejudice to the defendant and his failure to assert his speedy trial right. As stated earlier, the Court found that Crane’s incarceration was prejudicial. See also Loud Hawk, 474 U.S. at 312. Crane’s failure to assert his rights during the 11-month delay, though, weighed against the prejudice to him.
The Illinois Supreme Court concluded by saying when balancing the competing concerns in Crane’s case, the prejudice suffered by him due to his incarceration did not warrant a finding that Crane’s speedy-trial right was denied. The Court reversed the appellate court’s decision to dismiss Crane’s indictment, and the case was remanded to the appellate court for a decision on other alleged trial court errors not discussed and unrelated to the speedy trial right. Crane, 2001 WL 436966 at *12.

Lisa M. Matich is a third year law student at Northern Illinois University College of Law. She is currently the Managing Editor of the NIU Law Review.

DCBA Brief