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US Supreme Court dismisses case alleging a speedy trial violation based on delay due to state’s failure to fund indigent defense

Jonathan Edward Boyer v. Louisiana, USSC 11-9953, 4/29/13

United States Supreme Court order and opinions, dismissing, as improvidently granted, the writ of certiorari to review State v. Boyer, 56 So. 3d 1119 (La. Ct. App. 2011).

As explained in our post on the grant of certiorari, the issue was whether and how the state’s failure to fund indigent defense should count against the state in analyzing the defendant’s Sixth Amendment speedy trial claim under Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (1972). It took seven years to bring Boyer to trial. While the record showed a number of causes for the delay, the state court concluded the “largest part” of the delay was due to the state’s “funding crisis”; yet it discounted that delay as “out of the State’s control,” 56 So. 3d at 1142, 1145. 

The Court now dismisses the petition as improvidently granted because, according to a concurrence by Alito (joined by Thomas and Scalia), “the record simply does not support the proposition that much—let alone ‘most’—of the delay was caused by the State’s failure to fund the defense.” (Concurrence at 4). Indeed, the concurrence claims, “the record shows that the single largest share of the delay in this case was the direct result of defense requests for continuances, that other defense motions caused substantial additional delay, and that much of the rest of the delay was caused by events beyond anyone’s control.” (Concurrence at 3).

Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor dissent, saying the narrow issue of how to weigh the lack of funding can still be addressed regardless of the other factors relating to delay. (Dissent at 7). The question should not have to wait for another day, given what may well be “larger, systemic problems in Louisiana.” (Dissent at 9).

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