Published on: Friday, October 28, 2022

The Fourth Circuit dismissed a pair of drug-related charges and vacated a defendant’s related convictions, after concluding that the trial court failed to comply with the Speedy Trial Act (article available here).

The record didn’t show that the lower court complied with the law’s procedural requirements for granting ends-of-justice continuances between July 22, 2019, and Nov. 7, 2019, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit said.

Under the Speedy Trial Act, a defendant’s trial must start within 70 days of the later of the filing of the indictment or the date the defendant appeared before the court on the criminal charges. A court must also state its reasons for granting the continuance.

Enil Ramon Montoya Velasquez’s arraignment was postponed seven times before he eventually pleaded guilty in July 2019, the Tuesday opinion said. At the end of the arraignment, the district court asked whether the parties had agreed on a trial date.

After the government said that December was likely the earliest time they could schedule a trial, the district court entered a minute entry stating that Velasquez’s trial would “be set by order at a later date—speedy trial computation excluded by court.”

The lower court didn’t state how long the continuance would last, or the reason for the delay, however, so it wasn’t clear that it balanced the applicable “ends-of-justice” factors at that time.

The government argued that the court could draw inferences from the record as a whole that the district court’s subsequent explanation: that it believed Velasquez needed more trial preparation time when it granted the continuance.

“To accept the Government’s argument would require us to simply speculate as to a post hoc justification for the district court’s July 22 minute order. But the Speedy Trial Act expressly precludes us from doing so,” the court said.

The case is United States v. Velasquez, No. 20-4514 (4th Cir. Oct. 25, 2022).