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United States v. Scheer

decided: February 24, 1984.


Appeal from a decision of the United States District Court for the District of Vermont (Coffrin, C.J.) denying defendant's motion to dismiss his indictment pursuant to the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act. Affirmed.

Meskill, Kearse and Cardamone, Circuit Judges. Kearse, Circuit Judge, concurring.

Author: Cardamone

CARDAMONE, Circuit Judge:

Joel R. Scheer, a prisoner held under state charges in California, was transferred to the State of Vermont to answer federal charges. The transfer was made under the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act (IADA or Act), 18 U.S.C. App., pp. 545-48; (1982); Pub. L. 91-538, ยงยง 1-8, 84 Stat. 1397-1403 (1970). Scheer claims on this appeal that his motion to dismiss the federal indictment in Vermont should have been granted because his rights under the Act were violated. He asserts that he was not brought to trial within 120 days of his arrival in Vermont, that a certificate setting forth the terms of his commitment, time served, time remaining to be served and the like was not furnished by the State of California and that his transfer was effected less than 30 days after receipt of a request for it. This appeal follows a judgment of conviction entered in the United States District Court for the District of Vermont (Coffrin, C.J.) pursuant to a written plea agreement, under which Scheer reserved the right to appeal the denial of his dismissal motion for the claimed violations of the Act. We turn to the facts, which are not in dispute.


On January 14, 1982 a federal grand jury in Vermont handed down a six count indictment charging Scheer, a previously convicted felon, with various violations of the federal firearm statutes. On March 15, 1982 Scheer was arrested in California on state charges under the name of Randolph Bachman. While Scheer was in jail awaiting disposition of those charges, federal authorities discovered his whereabouts and in April filed a detainer with the Los Angeles County Jail on the federal charges pending against him in Vermont. On May 27 Scheer pled guilty to grand theft in California and was sentenced to 16 months imprisonment, with credit for time served of 109 days. With the state charges resolved, Scheer contacted the United States Attorney's office in Vermont and requested a prompt resolution of the outstanding federal charges. He also sent a telegram on June 7 to the same office stating that he "would appreciate if you could clear the problems up as expediently as possible."

On May 28, 1982 the government filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus ad prosequendum requesting that the court have the defendant brought to Vermont. Judge Holden issued the writ on June 1 directing that defendant be brought before him for arraignment. On June 5 United States Marshals took custody of the defendant, shuttled him across the country and delivered him in the District of Vermont on June 25, where he was immediately arraigned. Judge Holden set July 9 as the deadline for filing pretrial motions and August 2 as a tentative trial date. Defendant was represented at the arraignment by retained counsel, who moved on July 6 to withdraw. At a hearing on the motion on July 8, and upon defendant's request for an additional two weeks in which to retain another attorney, Judge Holden granted retained counsel's motion to withdraw, appointed counsel to represent the defendant, and extended the time for the defendant to file pretrial motions until July 23.

On July 23 defendant filed two motions to suppress, alleging that his arrest and the search of his residence giving rise to the federal charges were illegal. Hearings were scheduled on these motions for August 6. On August 3 the defendant filed a motion, which was granted the next day, for a continuance in order to obtain a transcript of his prior state court proceedings. The transcript was obtained and filed one week later and the suppression hearing was scheduled for August 27. To accommodate defense counsel's schedule, the hearing was later rescheduled for September 3, when testimony was taken. At the defendant's request, the hearing was adjourned until September 13 to take further testimony. At its conclusion both parties were told to submit proposed findings. Defendant filed his papers on September 28, and the government's memoranda were filed on October 4. On October 4 the government filed a motion to reopen the evidence on the suppression issues. The defendant filed opposition papers, and a hearing on the motion was held on October 20. After entertaining oral argument, and in the presence of the defendant, the court granted the government's motion to reopen the record. On October 28 the court denied defendant's motions to suppress.

Since Judge Holden was engaged in a protracted civil trial, he decided on November 17 to transfer this case to Judge Coffrin for trial, scheduled to begin on December 8. But on December 1 and 7 the defendant asked the court ex parte to issue subpoenas for certain individuals to ensure their availability as witnesses. After a hearing, with defendant present, the applications were granted and the trial date was continued until January 11, 1983. On January 5 the defendant sought another continuance because one of his witnesses had been hospitalized and one of the subpoenas had not been served. Scheer indicated at the time that his need for a continuance to secure these witnesses outweighed his interest in a speedy trial. By order dated January 10 the court granted defendant's request and set the trial date for February 8.

On January 28 the defendant moved to dismiss the indictment claiming that the government had violated certain provisions of the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act. Judge Coffrin continued the trial from February 8 to a date subsequent to the disposition of this motion, which he heard and denied on March 2. Immediately thereafter a jury trial commenced. Following a guilty verdict, Judge Coffrin, for evidentiary reasons, granted defendant a new trial. Prior to the commencement of the second trial defendant entered a plea of guilty to two counts of the federal indictment. Under the plea agreement, he reserved his right to this appeal.


Before discussing the issues it is helpful to examine the circumstances surrounding the passage of the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act. The Act contains no definition of detainer, but the Senate Report recommending enactment of the Agreement defines it to be "a notification filed with the institution in which a prisoner is serving a sentence, advising that he is wanted to face pending criminal charges in another jurisdiction." S. Rep. No. 1356, 91st Cong., 2d Sess. 2 (1970), reprinted in 1970 U.S. Code Cong. & Ad. News 4864, 4865. The Act was entered into by the United States in order to provide a prisoner with a method of clearing up detainers filed against him and to provide prosecutors with a uniform set of rules governing temporary transfers for purposes of trial. Born because of abuses arising from the ease of filing detainers, which prejudiced the prisoner against whom they were lodged, the Act was conceived upon the premise that justice demanded prompt disposition of such detainers. The Director of the Bureau of Prisons advised Congress that lodging a detainer against a prisoner seriously disadvantages him in several ways. Since he is in custody, he is unable to organize a defense to the charges related in the detainer. He is prejudiced in the eyes of those who hold him because the detainer indicates criminal proclivity on his part making him ineligible for desirable work assignments. Interest in rehabilitation tends to evaporate when a person confined in one jurisdiction has unresolved charges pending in another. See 116 Cong. Rec. 13,999 (1970). Once one jurisdiction had tried and convicted of a prisoner, another jurisdiction without any requirement of judicial oversight would simply file a detainer against the prisoner, instead of moving to extradite and try him on charges. Upon the prisoner's completion of the first term, a second jurisdiction could then bring the prisoner to trial. And, if the prisoner was convicted in the second jurisdiction, still other jurisdictions seeking to press charges might file detainers with the prison where he was next incarcerated. See generally United States v. Ford, 550 F.2d 732 (2d Cir. 1977), aff'd sub. nom., United States v. Mauro, 436 U.S. 340, 56 L. Ed. 2d 329, 98 S. Ct. 1834 (1978).

It was against this backdrop of abuse that the Joint Committee on Detainers worked out a statement of principles which later served as the underpinnings of the Act. These principles were directed at those authorities that file detainers -- prosecutors, ...

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