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Two-year, eight-month charging delay did not violate Sixth Amendment speedy trial guarantee

State v. Thomas A. Jahnke, 2013AP1576-CR, District 1, 12/27/13; court of appeals decision (1-judge; ineligible for publication); case activity

Whether a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial has been violated depends on: the length of the delay; the reason for the delay; the defendant’s timely assertion of the speedy-trial right; and prejudice to the defense from the delay. Prejudice is assessed by considering pretrial incarceration, anxiety and concern of the defendant, and impairment of the defendant’s ability to present a defense. Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 530, 532 (1972).

Jahnke was arrested for OWI in March 2008 but was not charged until November 2010. (¶2). While the court assumes the two-year, eight-month delay is presumptively prejudicial, it concludes Jahnke has failed to show prejudice. Jahnke was not in custody till well after the complaint was filed, so he doesn’t rely on that factor. (¶3). The court concludes the other two factors do not support a finding of prejudice. As to his personal anxiety and concern, Jahnke argues that before finally being charged he participated and completed a number of AODA programs to rehabilitate himself, only to then face prosecution. (¶4). The court is curtly dismissive of this argument:

¶8        …. Looking at his claimed “anxiety” we see in his submissions only a spur to rehabilitation. As a matter of public policy and common sense that can hardly be the type of oppressive anxiety implicated by even a presumptively prejudicial speedy-trial deprivation, unless there are other circumstances not present in this case. Indeed, the prejudice component of the deprivation of speedy court process has focused on whether that would “adversely” affect the person’s prospects for rehabilitation. See Strunk v United States, 412 U.S. 434, 439 (1973) (emphasis added). Thus, post-conviction and pre-sentence rehabilitation is often asserted a reason for sentencing leniency. Here, Jahnke was at liberty without cash bond until he did not appear at scheduled court hearings, and, until he forfeited the first cash bond, he was free to go about his business and rehabilitation efforts. …

As to impairment to Jahnke’s ability to mount a defense, the court essentially finds this argument undeveloped, as he did not appeal the circuit court’s decision to suppress the blood results on account of the delay in the case and cannot say whether testing of the long-ago-destroyed blood sample would have been helpful. (¶¶4, 8). Accordingly, the court says, Jahnke has not shown prejudice under Barker. (¶8).

The court’s mechanical application of the speedy trial test is at odds with the rule that the Barker factors comprise “a four-part balancing test” and that the right “is not subject to bright-line determinations and must be considered based upon the totality of the circumstances that exist in any specific case.” State v. Borhegyi, 222 Wis. 2d 506, 509-10, 588 N.W.2d 89 (Ct. App. 1998). Consequently, while prejudice is an important factor, “it is not necessary that a defendant show prejudice in fact in order to establish a speedy trial violation.” State v. Urdahl, 2005 WI App 191, ¶34, 286 Wis. 2d 476, 704 N.W.2d 324.

By focusing solely on prejudice, the court ignores the other two factors. The state’s negligence apparently caused the delay in charging, which would mean that factor weighs in Jahnke’s favor. As for assertion of the right, Jahnke alleged trial counsel was ineffective for failing to assert his right to a speedy trial; in fact, because he pleaded guilty, his entire speedy trial claim was brought as an ineffective claim due to the guilty plea forfeiture rule. (¶¶1, 5). Moreover, the court’s reliance on Strunk seems inapposite. The language the court of appeals cites is part of the Court’s observation that delay may have less impact on someone already confined–which Jahnke clearly wasn’t until after the complaint was filed– unless the prisoner’s rehabilitation prospects are affected. This is not quite a statement that speedy-trial analysis has “focused” on adverse effects on rehabilitation. All in all, then, this is a closer case than the court’s too-narrow analysis makes it out to be.

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