State v. Michael Cahill (A-47-11) (068727)
Decided April 1, 2013
The Court considers whether defendant Michael Cahill’s right to a speedy trial was violated, thereby requiring the dismissal the motor vehicle charge of driving while intoxicated (DWI).
Sixteen months later, on March 17, 2010, Cahill received a letter from the municipal court stating that the motor vehicle tickets were listed for trial in April. Cahill’s attorney promptly filed a motion to dismiss the charges claiming that the delay denied Cahill his right to a speedy trial. Cahill argued that the delay, whether calculated from the date of arrest (twenty-nine months) or the date of sentence on the indictable offense (sixteen months), was egregious. Although Cahill did not claim that his ability to defend the charges was prejudiced, he explained that the anticipated loss of his driver’s license caused him to limit his employment searches to short-term positions or positions in locations that did not require him to drive to work, and that he had surrendered a job offer that would have required him to drive. He also asserted that he eventually altered his search to seek a permanent position because he believed the prosecutor had abandoned the charges. Once he received the trial notice, he returned to seeking short-term jobs with lower wages. The State responded that the delay was not uncommon for DWI cases, and the municipal prosecutor argued that he had no record of a demand from Cahill to set a trial date and that Cahill had retained his driving privileges. The municipal judge denied the motion, finding the delay lengthy but not as lengthy as in other cases. Although the judge considered the delay unexplained and attributed it to the negligence of personnel, he found Cahill’s assertions of prejudice unsupported by evidence and declined to give weight to his claims of anxiety. Cahill entered a conditional plea to the charge of DWI. His driver’s license was suspended for one year and he was ordered to attend the Intoxicated Driver Resource Program.
Cahill filed an appeal in the Law Division. The Law Division judge reversed the decision and vacated the guilty plea and DWI sentence based on the four-factor test identified by the United States Supreme Court inBarker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (1972). The court measured the delay from the sentencing date on the indictable offense to the date Cahill received the notice of trial in the municipal court (sixteen months) and found it excessive based, in part, on a 1984 Directive by Chief Justice Wilentz that established sixty days as the recommended maximum period for the disposition of a DWI charge. The court held that prejudice can be found from employment interruptions, anxiety, financial drain, and other circumstances, and it accepted Cahill’s claim that the delay caused him anxiety and financial harm. Finally, the court found that it would be counterproductive to expose Cahill to additional sanctions because he had satisfied the requirements of the sentence imposed in 2008. The Appellate Division affirmed, holding that the Law Division judge properly analyzed and applied the Barker factors. The Supreme Court granted the State’s petition for certification. 208 N.J. 601 (2011).
HELD: Applying the four-factor analysis set forth by the United States Supreme Court in Barker v. Wingo, the sixteen-month delay between the remand of the driving-while-intoxicated charge to the municipal court and the notice of trial deprived defendant Michael Cahill of his right to a speedy trial and the charge must be dismissed.
1. In 1967, the United States Supreme Court held that the right to a speedy trial, guaranteed by the United States Constitution, was a fundamental right applied to the states by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In 1972, in Barker, the United States Supreme Court established a four-factor balancing test to evaluate claims of speedy trial violations. It directed courts to consider the length of the delay, reason for the delay, assertion of the right by a defendant, and prejudice to the defendant. The Court declined to identify a deadline after which a charge would be subject to dismissal. It also did not require that a defendant demand a speedy trial or waive the right. Instead, the Court directed a case-by-case application of the four factors. With regard to the first factor, the Court held that a delay may be presumptively prejudicial and thereby trigger consideration of the other factors. The length of the delay that may be considered presumptively prejudicial depends on the circumstances of the case, including the nature of the charged offense. Once a defendant asserts a violation of the right to a speedy trial, the government is required to identify the reason for the delay. In assessing prejudice, the interests being protected are the prevention of oppressive incarceration, minimization of anxiety attributable to the unresolved charge, and limitation of the possibility of impairment of the defense. All factors are related, requiring a balancing. (pp. 11-16)
2. The right to a speedy trial extends to quasi-criminal matters pending in the municipal courts, including DWI charges. In addition to the Barker analysis, this Court has adopted various rules and directives governing prompt disposition, but it has declined to set a deadline after which the charges must be dismissed. Even the sixty-day period announced in 1984, and relied on by the Law Division judge in this case, was described as a goal rather than a bright-line rule. The Court reaffirms its adherence to the four-factor Barker analysis, recognizing that the facts of an individual case are the best indicators of whether a right to speedy trial has been violated. (pp. 16-24)
3. Cahill was charged with an indictable offense arising out of the October 27, 2007 incident. Because prosecution of the DWI charge prior to resolution of the indictable offense could have resulted in double jeopardy and the dismissal of the more serious charge, the State moved promptly. Cahill pled guilty to the indictable offense on September 19, 2008, and the court imposed sentence on November 14, 2008. The eleven-and-one-half-month gap between the initial charge and disposition of the indictable offense was reasonable. However, sixteen months elapsed between remand of the DWI charge to the municipal court and the time Cahill received notice of the first trial date, which is long enough to trigger consideration of the remaining Barker factors. The DWI charge was a straightforward quasi-criminal offense with uncomplicated legal issues and no witness-availability problems and the State offered no explanation for the delay—two factors that weigh against the State. Cahill did not take any action to trigger a trial after the remand, but a defendant does not have an obligation to bring himself to trial and Cahill promptly filed a motion after receipt of the trial notice. Although failure to assert the speedy trial right is a factor that must be considered, it does not counterbalance the lengthy and unexplained delay in this case. Finally, Cahill limited his employment options in anticipation of prosecution, and any person would experience anxiety from the existence of a pending and long-unresolved charge, particularly one that would have a dramatic effect on daily activities and the ability to earn a living. After balancing the factors, the Court concludes that the extensive and unexplained delay, coupled with the generalized anxiety and personal prejudice occasioned by the protracted resolution of this matter, violated Cahill’s right to a speedy trial. (pp. 24-29)
4. Administrative Directive #04-11, adopted in 2011, requires that the Superior Court dispose of all parts of a case before it, including municipal court matters, unless there is a compelling reason otherwise. Although there will be instances that require motor vehicle charges to be resolved separately, the Court declines to adopt a try-or-miss rule. It also cautions that a judge applying the Barker analysis must take into account the effects of the State v. Chun order addressing the scientific reliability of the Alcotest. (pp. 29-31)
5. On balance, the factors fall in favor of Cahill’s claim that, in this case, the delay deprived him of his constitutionally-guaranteed right to a speedy trial. (pp. 31-33)
The judgment of the Appellate Division is AFFIRMED.