Monday, April 29, 2013

Boyer v. Louisiana: SCOTUS Decides Not to Decide Speedy Trial Case

Supreme Court Decides not to Decide Boyer v. Louisiana
This sucks. The Supreme Court granted certiorari in Boyer v. Louisiana to consider if delays caused by Louisiana's underfunding of indigent defense should be attributed to the prosecution for speedy trial purposes. They heard argument in the case but today dodged the issue and dismissed the Petition for Certiorari as improvidently granted. Wait, what?

Jonathan Boyer sat in jail for seven years awaiting trial on capital murder charges. A lot of that delay was caused by the State failing to pay the agency charged with defending those facing the death penalty. Prosecutors eventually decided not to seek the death penalty and that allowed the case to proceed to trial where Boyer was convicted of second degree murder.

The Supreme court Granted Certiorari on 10/5/12, heard oral argument on 1/14/13 and today dismissed the case without deciding the question presented. The majority reasoned that the petition for cert was improvidently granted. Here is a look at the opinion we almost got, written by Sotomayor, who Ginsberg, Breyer and Kagen Joined in dissent:
We granted certiorari to decide whether a delay caused by a State’s failure to fund counsel for an indigent’s defense should be weighed against the State in determining whether there was a deprivation of a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. 568 U. S. ___ (2012). Rather than dismiss the writ as improvidently granted, I would simply address this question. Our precedents provide a clear answer: Such a delay should weigh against the State. It is important for States to understand that they have an obligation to protect a defendant’s constitutional right to a speedy trial. I respectfully dissent.
This could have been a great case for indigent defense which faces chronic underfunding in Maine and around the country. At this very moment, the commission that pays Maine's indigent defenders has stopped making payments since it is out of money. Under the sequester, Attorney General Holder has continued to find money to pay U.S. Attorneys and Bureau of Prison's workers but Federal Defenders offices are taking huge cuts.

This stuff is no joke and it has a real impact of the rights of the accused, justice for victims and integrity of convictions. Imputing the delays caused by government underfunding to the very government that prosecutes a defendant makes good karmic and legal sense; an opinion from the Supremes might have snapped some legislatures back into shape. Alas, after doing all the work, 5 of the 9 copped out.