Schatz, for appellant.
Sabrina Margret Bierer, for respondent.
York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers et al.;
Bronx Defenders et al., amici curiae.
answer to the question "how long is too long?" is a
difficult one to resolve. However, certain basic principles
must guide us. An accused's right to be presumed innocent
is protected by the right to prompt justice. Incarceration
should generally follow conviction, not precede it. The
failure of our criminal justice system to promptly resolve
cases erodes faith in its fundamental fairness. This Court
has long recognized that "[s]ociety, as well as the
defendant, has an important interest in assuring prompt
prosecution of those suspected of criminal activity"
(People v Staley, 41 N.Y.2d 789');">41 N.Y.2d 789, 792 , citing
People v Johnson, 38 N.Y.2d 271, 276 ). Delays
are often inevitable and justifiable. Nevertheless, in
discharging their obligation to ensure "that those
accused of crimes are swiftly brought to justice"
(Johnson, 38 N.Y.2d at 276), the People do not have
discretion to indefinitely delay a defendant's trial in
order to pursue evidence that would strengthen their case.
appeal, we must determine whether a lengthy delay between
defendant's arrest and his eventual guilty plea violated
his constitutional right to a speedy trial. Applying the
factors set forth in People v Taranovich (37 N.Y.2d
442 ) to the circumstances of this case, we conclude
that defendant's right to a speedy trial was violated.
24, 2008, after a "sweet sixteen" party, defendant
Reginald Wiggins and codefendant Jamal Armstead confronted
another partygoer after they were told that the partygoer had
insulted their friend. Armstead pointed a gun at the alleged
offender and pulled the trigger, but the gun did not fire.
Armstead then handed the gun to defendant, who fired a shot
that hit a 15-year-old bystander, killing him. Defendant was
16 years old at the time.
was arrested on May 28, 2008 and remanded without bail.
Defendant and 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. On August 26, 2008, defendant filed an
omnibus motion in Supreme Court seeking, inter alia,
severance of his case from Armstead's, in part on
Bruton grounds (see generally Bruton v United
States, 391 U.S. 123');">391 U.S. 123');">391 U.S. 123');">391 U.S. 123 ). On October 23, 2008, the
court held that part of the motion seeking severance on
Bruton grounds in abeyance, pending resolution of
Armstead's motion to suppress his statements to police.
The court, however, did not hold a Huntley hearing
in Armstead's case or decide that suppression motion for
nearly four years.
approximately 2½ years, from January 2009 to June
2011, the People sought to obtain Armstead's cooperation
in testifying against defendant. The People requested
numerous adjournments for that purpose, generally with
Armstead's consent. Inasmuch as severance had not yet
been granted, these adjournments necessarily also resulted in
adjournments of defendant's case. The People pursued
Armstead's cooperation for this length of time even
though the People acknowledged during later litigation of
defendant's speedy trial motion that Armstead
"repeatedly indicated through his lawyer that he [would]
never testify against the defendant, " although they
further asserted, without elaboration, that "Armstead
himself has wavered on this point."
People's efforts to obtain Armstead's cooperation
were unsuccessful. In June 2011, the People presented
Armstead with the terms of a cooperation agreement, which
Armstead rejected. Armstead's request for reassignment of
counsel was granted. In July 2011, the People announced their
intention to try Armstead first, separately from defendant.
The People hoped that if Armstead was convicted on a top
count, he might decide to testify against defendant in
exchange for a more lenient sentence. The People further
asserted that Armstead's testimony "would
significantly enhance the overall nature and quality of the
evidence against the defendant." Due to adjournments
requested by Armstead's counsel, Armstead's
Huntley hearing did not begin until May 2012. In
August 2012, the court denied Armstead's motion to
suppress his statements.
meantime, in October 2011, defendant was involved in a
jailhouse altercation. He was convicted of assault in the
second degree, and in June 2013, he was sentenced to
4½ years' imprisonment. That judgment was affirmed
on appeal (People v Wiggins, 132 A.D.3d 514');">132 A.D.3d 514 [1st
Dept 2015], lv denied 27 N.Y.3d 1076');">27 N.Y.3d 1076 ).
Defendant was also charged in 2009 with conspiracy and gang
assault. Those charges were pending until March 2013, when
they were ultimately dismissed.
first trial began in October 2012, resulting in a partial
verdict convicting him of criminal possession of a weapon in
the second degree. Before deliberations could continue on the
remaining counts, Hurricane Sandy interrupted the trial. When
the trial resumed on November 7, 2012, only 11 jurors
returned, and the court declared a mistrial. Armstead's
counsel announced that he would be unable to retry the case
until the following April.
April 2013, Armstead's second trial began. That trial
also ended in a mistrial due to jury deadlock. Armstead's
counsel stated that he would be unable to retry the case
2013, before Armstead's third trial began, defendant
filed his first motion to dismiss the indictment on
constitutional speedy trial grounds. The court denied that
motion in December 2013. The court acknowledged that the
delay was lengthy, but reasoned that "a good part of the
extraordinary delay was caused by" Armstead, and that
defendant had been incarcerated due to his unrelated pending
cases during much of that time. The court further concluded
that the defense did not appear to be impaired by the delay.
third trial began in January 2014. Armstead was acquitted of
second-degree murder, but the jury deadlocked on the
attempted murder counts, and a third mistrial was declared.
Armstead's fourth trial was scheduled for August 2014. In
June 2014, defendant filed a second motion to dismiss the
indictment based on a violation of his constitutional right
to a speedy trial.
September 23, 2014, Armstead's fourth trial had not yet
begun, and the People had not responded to defendant's
second speedy trial motion. Defendant pleaded guilty to
manslaughter in the first degree in exchange for a
determinate sentence of 12 years' imprisonment, to be
followed by five years' postrelease supervision. During
the plea proceeding, defendant withdrew his pending speedy
trial motion. On October 7, 2014, defendant was sentenced in
accordance with the terms of the plea agreement. On February
26, 2015, Armstead pleaded guilty to attempted murder in the
second degree in exchange for a sentence of 15 years'
imprisonment, to be followed by five years' postrelease
short, the People pursued a cooperation agreement with
Armstead for approximately 2½ years. After that effort
proved unsuccessful, they spent the next three years
attempting to convict Armstead, trying him separately from
defendant. After three mistrials, Armstead had been convicted
of only criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree,
he had been acquitted on the top count of second-degree
murder, and the People were no closer to securing his
testimony against defendant. The time between defendant's
arrest on May 28, 2008 and defendant's plea on September
23, 2014 spanned six years, three months, and 25 days, from
when defendant was 16 years old until he was 22. Defendant
spent the entirety of that period incarcerated.
appeal, the Appellate Division held, in a 3-2 decision, that
defendant's constitutional right to a speedy trial was
not violated (People v Wiggins, 143 A.D.3d 451');">143 A.D.3d 451');">143 A.D.3d 451');">143 A.D.3d 451 [1st
Dept 2016]). One of the dissenting Justices granted defendant
leave to appeal to this Court (28 N.Y.3d 1152');">28 N.Y.3d 1152 ). We now
analyze constitutional speedy trial claims using the five
factors set forth in People v Taranovich (37 N.Y.2d
442 ): "(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" (id. at 445). These factors are
similar, but not identical, to the factors used in evaluating
speedy trial claims under the federal constitution, which
include the "[l]ength of delay, the reason for the
delay, the defendant's assertion of his right, and
prejudice to the defendant" (Barker v Wingo,
407 U.S. 514');">407 U.S. 514, 530 ). "[N]o one factor or
combination of the factors... is necessarily decisive or
determinative of the speedy trial claim, but rather the
particular case must be considered in light of all the
factors as they apply to it" (Taranovich, 37
N.Y.2d at 445).
extent the People argue that our review of this issue is
circumscribed because the balancing of the
Taranovich factors generally or the lower
courts' determination as to the second
Taranovich factor specifically constitutes a mixed
question of law and fact, we disagree. The People rely on
People v Vernace (96 N.Y.2d 886, 887 ), where
we held that the Appellate Division's determination that
the People had good cause to delay the commencement of
prosecution based on witness fear was "a mixed question
of law and fact for which there is support in the
record" (id.). Whether witnesses were fearful
involves factual inferences beyond the review powers of this
Court. Here, the reason for the delay is not a disputed
factual issue; the dispute pertains only to whether the
reason for the delay was sufficient to justify it as a matter
of law. Furthermore, we have never referred to the general
application of the Taranovich factors as a mixed
question over which we have limited powers of review.
respect to the first Taranovich factor - the length
of the delay - we agree with the Appellate Division that
"[t]here is no question that the six-year delay between
the shooting in 2008 and defendant's guilty plea in 2014
was extraordinary'" (Wiggins, 143 A.D.3d at
455, quoting People v Staley, 41 N.Y.2d 789');">41 N.Y.2d 789, 792
; see People v Romeo, 12 N.Y.3d 51, 56 ,
cert denied 558 U.S. 817');">558 U.S. 817 ), and therefore that
this factor favors defendant. Even if we examine only the
time between defendant's arrest and the denial of his
first speedy trial motion, as the People contend we must
because defendant withdrew his second speedy trial motion
when he pleaded guilty, that delay still amounts to 5½
years. Although we have "steadfastly refused to set
forth a per se period beyond which a criminal prosecution may
not be pursued" (Taranovich, 37 N.Y.2d at 445),
and this extraordinary delay therefore is "not in itself
decisive, " it demands "close scrutiny of the other
factors, especially the question of why the delay occurred,
" inasmuch as it is "the People's burden to
bring defendant to trial in a timely fashion"
(Romeo, 12 N.Y.3d at 56).
second Taranovich factor requires us to consider the
reason for the delay. There are two primary reasons for the
extraordinary delay here: adjournments consented to or
requested by Armstead, and the People's desire to secure
Armstead's cooperation in testifying against defendant.
Although the People point to other reasons for the delay
outside of their control, such as a fire in the courthouse
and Hurricane Sandy, those delays were minimal. The People
also note that some delay was due to defendant's requests
for adjournments for motion practice, discovery, and
reassignment of counsel, but those adjournments amounted to,
at most, seven months of the delay.
first delay attributable to Armstead, the Appellate Division
erred in applying case law interpreting CPL 30.30 to conclude
that adjournments granted with Armstead's consent
"should not be chargeable here" (Wiggins,
143 A.D.3d at 455). CPL 30.30 is inapplicable, inasmuch as