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Orlando Criminal Defense Lawyer > Blog > Drug Crime > Do COVID-Related Delays in Arresting a Defendant Violate Speedy Trial Rights?

Do COVID-Related Delays in Arresting a Defendant Violate Speedy Trial Rights?


The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees every criminal defendant the right to a “speedy trial.” The difficulty is that the Sixth Amendment itself never defines “speedy.” Over the years, Congress and the federal courts have developed certain laws and tests to help define the right to a speedy trial more precisely. But it still often depends on the specific facts and circumstances of a given case.

11th Circuit Upholds Drug Conviction Following 35-Month Delay in Arrest

For example, the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that a 35-month delay between the indictment of a defendant and his arrest did not violate the Sixth Amendment. The case, United States v. Vargas, involved a defendant charged with distributing heroin. In June 2018, an undercover federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) officer conducted a controlled buy of 2 kilograms of heroin. The defendant delivered the drugs. Following his arrest, he waived his Miranda rights and admitted to receiving the drugs in New York and delivering them to the undercover officer in Florida.

The defendant was then released. Three months later, in September 2018, a federal grand jury in Florida indicted the defendant. A new arrest warrant was issued. At the time, the defendant was living in New York and unaware of the indictment.

The government waited nearly three years to actually arrest the defendant. This delay was initially due to administrative confusion among the various law enforcement agencies involved. At one point, the DEA agent in charge of the case was reassigned and the efforts to arrest the defendant stopped.

Meanwhile, in March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic began in the United States. This further delayed the DEA’s efforts to arrest the defendant, who had left the United States and traveled to the Dominican Republic. Finally, in July 2021, immigration authorities detained the defendant in New York when he reentered the country. He was formally arraigned in August 2021, 35 months after the grand jury indicted him.

The defendant moved to dismiss the indictment on Sixth Amendment grounds. The trial judge denied the motion. The defendant waived his right to a jury and the trial was held before a judge. The judge found the defendant guilty and sentenced him to 46 months in federal prison.

On appeal, the defendant renewed his speedy trial objection. But the 11th Circuit upheld the trial court’s ruling on that issue. The appellate court specifically noted that the COVID-19 pandemic was a “complicating factor” that “reduced the extent to which the Government was responsible for the delay” in arresting the defendant. In particular, the restrictions imposed during the early COVID lockdown period “affected the DEA’s efforts to make arrests, much less extra-jurisdictional ones.”

More to the point, the 11th Circuit said the delay actually benefited the defendant, since he was free to continue living at home–and travel internationally–rather than being confined in a jail cell during the early days of the pandemic.

Contact the Joshi Law Firm Today

Florida is one of the most popular states when it comes to charging defendants with crimes related to the distribution of controlled substances. If you are facing federal or state charges and need legal representation from a qualified Orlando drug crime defense lawyer, call the Joshi Law Firm, PA, at 844-GO-JOSHI today or contact us online to schedule a free initial consultation with a member of our team.



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