Court of Appeals Looks at Taranovich Factors to Determine Whether Speedy Trial Rights are Violated
People v. Wiggins
New York Court of Appeals
2018 Slip Op 01111
Decided on February 15, 2018
Issue: Whether a lengthy delay of six years between a defendant’s arrest and conviction violated his due process right to a speedy trial under the United States Constitution.
Holding: By looking at the five factors set forth by Taranovich, the New York Court of Appeals held that the defendant’s due process right to a speedy trial was violated after waiting six years for a trial.
Facts: Defendant Wiggins and codefendant Armstead were at a party when they confronted a peer. Armstead pointed a gun at the individual and, after the gun failed to discharge, he handed the gun to Wiggins. Wiggins, who was sixteen years old at the time, shot and killed a bystander.
Wiggins was arrested on May 28, 2008 and was detained without bail. He and Armstead were charged 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. The defendant filed a motion seeking severance from Armstead’s case, but the court did not hold a hearing or make a decision until almost four years later.
From January 2009 to June 2011, the People pursued a cooperation agreement from Armstead, even though the People were aware that Armstead indicated he would “never testify against the defendant.” After no success, the People announced their intention to try Armstead first, hoping he would give in and decide to testify for a more lenient sentence.
In the meantime, Wiggins was convicted of assault in the second degree after his involvement in a jail altercation in 2011 and was sentenced to 4 ½ years in prison. Armstead’s case resulted in three mistrials between October 2012 and August 2014 before ultimately being convicted of criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree. After being incarcerated for more than six years since his arrest, Wiggins pled guilty to manslaughter in the first degree.
“The failure of our criminal justice system to promptly resolve cases erodes faith in its fundamental fairness.”
To determine whether Wiggins’ speedy trial right was violated, the Court of Appeals looked at five factors set forth in People v. Taranovich, 37 NY2d 442 (1975). These factors include 1) the extent of the delay; 2) the reason for the delay; 3) the nature of the underlying charge; 4) whether there has been an extended period of pretrial incarceration; and 5) whether there is any indication that the defense has been impaired by the reason for the delay.
There was no dispute that the defendant’s six-year delay was “extraordinary,” so there was no doubt this factor favored the defendant with regard to the first Taranovich factor. The other four Taranovich factors required a little more scrutiny.
With regard to the second Taranovich factor, the Court of Appeals considered the delay attributable to Armstead (the adjournments) and the delay attributable to the People (attempting to obtain Armstead’s testimony). The Appellate Division, upon confirming the conviction, concluded that the adjournments granted with Armstead’s consent shouldn’t be chargeable. The Court of Appeals held that was inaccurate because it is the individual who has the right to a speedy trial and the decision of a codefendant to delay his or her trial doesn’t render the defendant’s speedy trial right meaningless. The Appellate Division also erred in determining that it could not “second guess” the discretion left to the People with regard to the prosecution’s delay. Even assuming that the People acted on good faith, the Court of Appeals found that the People could not reasonably justify the delay in light of the unlikelihood that they would have procured Armstead’s testimony.
The Court of Appeals next considered the third Taranovich factor—the nature of the underlying charges. Wiggins’ charges, which included murder in the second degree, were no doubt serious. The Court determined that this factor favored the People since they “may be expected to proceed with far more caution.”
The fourth Taranovich factor required the Court to look at whether there has been an extended period of pretrial incarceration. Here, because Wiggins was incarcerated for the entirety of the delay between his arrest and plea, which spanned six years, this factor favored the defendant. The Court also noted that, although Wiggins’ was already sentenced to 4 ½ years for the jailhouse assault charge, that wasn’t sufficient to justify the delay.
Finally, the Court found the fifth Taranovich factor was in favor of the defendant because the lengthy delay impeded on Wiggins’ defense. Contrary to the Appellate Division’s holding that the defendant must show prejudice as a result of the delay, the Court of Appeals held that a showing of specific impairment is not necessarily required. The lengthy delay was enough to demonstrate the defendant suffered prejudice.