Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Monday, April 05, 2010

Jones: Speedy Trial Act Violation

In U.S. v. Jones, No. 08-16999 (Apr. 2, 2010), the Court reversed two felon-in-possession of a firearm and ammunition convictions because of a Speedy Trial Act violation, affirmed two felon-in-possession convictions, and remanded for resentencing.

Jones was convicted of two counts of being a felon-in-possession, but the Court of Appeals overturned these convictions. After a remand, the government, after obtaining additional information from a jailhouse informant, re-indicted Jones, this time on four felon-in-possession counts. The jury convicted Jones on all four counts.

Jones argued that the two original counts should be dismissed on Speedy Trial grounds because of the passage of 70-day deadline between the issuance of the mandate on his first appeal and the commencement of his second trial. The Court agreed, pointing out that when, as occurred here, the district court decides a pre-trial motion without a hearing, this court has 30 “excludable days” to rule on a motion – thereafter, the days count against the Speedy Trial deadline. Once the excludable days were taken into account, a total of 75 days elapsed before Jones was brought to trial. Hence, a Speedy Trial violation occurred.

However, the Court found that the district court could dismiss the affected counts “without prejudice” instead of “with prejudice,” because Jones was charged with “serious crimes,” the government’s delay was “excusable” because its interpretation of the Speedy Trial Act was “colorable,” and the five-day delay was “brief.”

The Court rejected the argument that Double Jeopardy required dismissal of the two new counts of the indictment. The charged acts of possession did not constitute a continuing course of conduct. Instead, the defendant possessed different weapons – two firearms and different ammunition for each firearm – at different times and or places. The government could therefore treat them as (four) different units of prosecution. For this same reason, the indictment was not multiplicitous.

The Court also rejected the argument that the prosecution vindictively added two counts to the indictment. The Court noted that the new information the government obtained after Jones’ win on appeal gave it sufficient evidence “to confidently bring the additional possession charges.”

The Court found no reversible error in the district court’s admission of the videotaped statement of a witness. The witness was unable to remember the subject matter of the video. The statement was therefore admissible under Fed. R. Evid. 803(5) as past recollection recorded, because the witness gave adequate verification of the accuracy of the contents of the video. The Court found no Confrontation Clause violation in the admission of the video, pointing out that the witness was subject to cross-examination at trial.

The Court also found no reversible error in allowing the video tape to be played for the jury during deliberations – even though the video was not received in evidence as an exhibit. The Court assumed that it was error to allow the video to be played for the jury during deliberations, but found the error harmless because the video “provided only cumulative evidence.”

Finally, the Court found no Jencks Act or Brady violation in the government’s failure to turn over a letter written by one of its cooperating witnesses. The Court found the nondisclosure harmless, because any additional impeachment value would have been “minimal.”