New York Speedy Trial Case


Recently, The New York Court of Appeals tackled the inquiry – how long is too long – in People v. Wiggins, 31 N.Y.3d 1, 72 N.Y.S.3d 1, 95 N.E.3d 303 (2018) determining that over five years incarcerated without a trial is too long. The majority decision reminds legal practitioners of the constitutional right to a speedy trial, a due process right to prompt prosecution,[i] and that "a defendant's right to a CPL 30.30 dismissal has its origin solely in legislative enactment which is in no way expressive of or dependent on any constitutional right to speedy trial"[ii] while the dissent exclaimed that there is no New York Constitutional right to a speedy trial.

The Wiggins case recapitulates the five factors set forth in People v. Taranovich (37 NY2d 442 (1975)) (“Taranovich”) as the guiding light in evaluating whether the accused is suffering a constitutional violation based on a constitutional speedy trial violation; those factors are "(1) the extent of the delay; (2) the reason for the delay; (3) the nature of the underlying charge; (4) whether or not there has been an extended period of pretrial incarceration; and (5) whether or not there is any indication that the defense has been impaired by reason of the delay."[iii]

In Wiggins, the defendant was allegedly handed a gun at a party and shot a 15-year-old bystander; the unintended target of the shooting died. Sixteen-year old defendant Reginald Wiggins “was arrested on May 28, 2008 and remanded without bail. Defendant [Wiggins] and [Co-Defendant] Armstead were charged in an indictment with murder in the second degree, two counts of attempted murder in the second degree, and criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree.” Reginald Wiggins filed his first motion to dismiss on constitutional speedy trial grounds in May, 2013, five years after arrest. Reginald Wiggins remained incarcerated throughout this time. He was not afforded bail. He would turn twenty-two years old in prison before the resolve of this case.

The story is not unique and should remind one of Kalief Browder who, "In 2010, at the age of 16, [Kalief Browder] was arrested after being accused of stealing a backpack. He would spend three years in New York City’s Rikers Island prison, more than two of those years in solitary confinement."[iv] Similarly, Reginald Wiggins would enter Rikers Island and languish there for years without a trial.[v] Not unique to Browder after his release, Wiggins has put the city on notice that he intends to sue stating, among other things, that Rikers was a nightmare.[vi] It is no wonder that the facility is due to close the “notoriously troubled jail complex over 10 years.”[vii]

Notable in Wiggins was the Court of Appeals majority stating that although the “Defendant has not demonstrated any specific impairment to his defense as a result of the extraordinary delay…both the United States Supreme Court and this Court have recognized that a demonstration of specific prejudice is not necessarily required” in asserting a constitutional speed trial violation.[viii] Between troubled prisons and clogged courts, the focus seems to be on the extent and reason for delay.

Arrested, Speedy Trial violations, Call the Law Offices of Cory H. Morris: 631-450-2515

[i] People v. Vernace, 96 NY2d 886, 887 (2001).

[ii] People v. Brothers,50 NY2d 413, 418 (1980).

[iii] Id. at 445; see also Barker v. Wingo, 407 US 514, 530 (1972) (citing the federal constitutional factors for whether a defendant’s right to a speedy trial has been violated); but see Wiggins, supra at 15 (“Unlike the federal speedy trial factors, the state Taranovich factors do not separately consider whether the defendant has asserted his or her right to a speedy trial.”)

[iv] Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan, Kalief Browder, Albert Woodfox and the Torture of Solitary Confinement, DemocracyNow (June 11, 2015), http://www.democracynow.org/blog/2015/6/11/kalief_browder_albert_woodfox_and_the.

[v] Yancey Roy, New York top court says jail inmate held too long without trial, Newsday, (Feb. 15, 2018), https://www.newsday.com/long-island/politics/spin-cycle/court-of-appeals-reginald-wiggins-1.16786627.

[vi] Shayna Jacobs, Man whose conviction was tossed sues city over extended Rikers stay, recalls 'dangerous environment', Newsday (April 30, 2018), http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/man-conviction-tossed-suing-extended-rikers-stay-article-1.3963561#.

[vii] Michelle Mark, New York City is set to close the first of its notorious Rikers Island jails this summer, Business Insider (January 2, 2018), https://www.businessinsider.com/first-rikers-jail-to-close-this-summer-2018-1.

[viii] Wiggins, at 17-18 (citing Moore v. Arizona, 414 US 25, 26 (1973)(citations omitted).


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