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United States v. Myers

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

July 22, 2019

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Christopher Ray Myers, AKA Christopher Myers, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued and Submitted February 6, 2019 Seattle, Washington

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington D.C. No. 2:15-cr-00045-JLQ-1 Justin L. Quackenbush, District Judge, Presiding

          Colin G. Prince (argued), Assistant Federal Public Defender, Federal Defenders of Eastern Washington & Idaho, Spokane, Washington, for Defendant-Appellant.

          James A. Goeke (argued) and Stephanie A. Van Marter, Assistant United States Attorneys; Joseph H. Harrington, United States Attorney; Office of the United States Attorney, Spokane, Washington; for Plaintiff-Appellee.

          Before: Sandra S. Ikuta and Morgan B. Christen, Circuit Judges, and Jennifer Choe-Groves, [*] Judge.

         SUMMARY[**]

         Criminal Law

         The panel vacated the district court's dismissal of a criminal defendant's speedy trial claim and remanded.

         The state and federal governments prosecuted the defendant for different crimes arising from the same incident. The federal government delayed commencing its criminal proceedings until state proceedings had concluded. The district court rejected the defendant's claim that this delay violated his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. He pleaded guilty to the federal charge but preserved his right to appeal the speedy trial issue.

         In determining whether the right to a speedy trial has been violated, courts apply the Barker balancing test, weighing the length of delay, the reason for the delay, the defendant's assertion of his right, and prejudice to the defendant.

         Agreeing with the Seventh and Tenth Circuits, and disagreeing with other circuits, the panel declined to adopt a rule that the government has a valid reason to delay federal prosecution when the defendant is subject to concurrent state proceedings. The panel instead adopted an ad hoc approach to evaluating delays caused by concurrent state proceedings, holding that a court must consider the nature and circumstances of the delay in order to determine whether (and how much) it weighs against the government.

          The panel concluded that, here, the length of delay favored dismissal and the delay was presumptively prejudicial. In addition, the district court may have erred in balancing the government's reasons for the delay. The panel vacated the district court's opinion on the speedy trial issue and remanded for the district court to reweigh the Barker factors in light of the panel's decision.

         The panel resolved additional issues in a concurrently filed memorandum disposition.

          OPINION

          IKUTA, CIRCUIT JUDGE

         The state and federal government prosecuted Christopher Myers for different crimes arising from the same incident. The federal government delayed commencing its criminal proceedings until the state's proceedings had concluded. Myers claims that this delay violated his constitutional right to a speedy trial. Because the Supreme Court directs courts to take an ad hoc, case-by-case approach to a defendant's claim that the right to a speedy trial has been violated, see Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 530 (1972), we decline to adopt a rule that delaying a trial in order to allow a concurrent judicial proceeding to conclude is a valid or neutral reason that does not weigh against the government. Because we cannot determine from the district court's orders whether the district court here erroneously applied a bright-line rule, we remand for further proceedings.

         I

         On January 30, 2015, deputies from the Spokane County Sheriff's Office initiated a traffic stop of a vehicle after it pulled into a gas station. After determining that one of the occupants of the vehicle had an outstanding warrant, the deputies placed that occupant under arrest. The deputies then questioned Christopher Myers, another occupant of the vehicle. Myers attempted to escape, but tripped and fell a short distance away. A deputy and his dog tried to subdue him. During the scuffle, a pistol in Myers's pocket went off, and one of the officers responded by shooting Myers in the stomach.

         In the wake of this incident, the state arraigned Myers and charged him with two counts of first-degree assault and one count of unlawful possession of a firearm. (The state subsequently dismissed the felon-in-possession charge.) A few days later, on May 5, 2015, the federal government issued an indictment charging Myers with unlawfully possessing a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), based on the same incident. The federal authorities filed a detainer with the state authorities.[1]

         The state proceedings were substantially delayed. From February 2015 to January 2017, four different attorneys were appointed for Myers. According to Myers, his second attorney asked for five continuances, yet failed to take the steps necessary to prepare for trial. Myers's two subsequent attorneys requested several continuances to familiarize themselves with his case, and then likewise failed to make progress in preparing for trial. After twelve ...


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