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United States v. Parga-Rivas

October 2, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosemary M. Collyer United States District Judge


Julio Cesar Parga-Rivas, a Colombian national being held on international drug trafficking charges and awaiting trial in Washington, D.C., moves to dismiss the Superseding Indictment against him for alleged violations of his right to a speedy trial pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3161 and the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, as well as "unnecessary delay" under Rule 48(b) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. The Court will deny the motion. The Speedy Trial Act authorizes the Court to: (1) exclude all time until the last co-defendant in a case is extradited to the United States, 18 U.S.C. § 3161(h)(6), and (2) exclude time in the interests of justice because of the complexity of a case, 18 U.S.C. § 3161(h)(7)(B). Because each of these exclusions applies here, there is no speedy trial violation. There has been no unreasonable or undue delay in the progression of this case that would trigger a constitutional analysis or a breach of the federal rules.


An Indictment returned in 2007 and a Superceding Indictment returned in 2008 charge that Mr. Parga-Rivas and six other Colombians conspired, from 2005 to 2008, and perhaps longer, to manufacture and distribute cocaine and heroin, knowing that they would be unlawfully imported into the United States. Mr. Parga-Rivas says that he turned himself into the Colombian police on April 16, 2008, when he learned he was wanted. He was not extradited to the United States until March of 2009 and had his initial appearance before a magistrate judge of this court on March 20, 2009, for arraignment. He entered pleas of not guilty, and counsel was assigned to represent him. A few days later, Mr. Parga-Rivas conceded to detention pending trial.

Mr. Parga-Rivas first appeared before the undersigned trial judge on April 3, 2009, for a status conference. At the end of that conference, the Court found that the Speedy Trial Act should be suspended between April 3, 2009 and May 19, 2009, in the interest of justice. A further status conference was held on May 19, 2009, at which the Government described its efforts to provide discovery to counsel for Mr. Parga-Rivas and to obtain the extradition of his co-defendants. Because of the complexity of the case (wiretaps and documents in foreign languages and alleged illegal activities in multiple foreign countries, all of which counsel needed to translate and understand, Mr. Parga-Rivas needed to listen to and understand in light of U.S. law, before counsel and client could consider his options) and the absence of co-defendants, the Court again suspended speedy trial. However, further status conferences were held on June 2, 2009, and on July 2, 2009, at which times the Government reported its progress toward the extraditions of Mr. Parga-Rivas's co-defendants, the parties discussed the complexity of the discovery, and, over defense objections, the Court found it in the interest of justice to suspend speedy trial. Thus, speedy trial was suspended until the next status conference, which was held on July 31, 2009.

Mr. Parga-Rivas and two of his co-defendants were present at the July 31, 2009, status conference, at which time the Government stated that it would not await the extradition of the remaining co-defendants for trial. Mr. Parga-Rivas's attorney, along with the attorneys for the two co-defendants present, requested that the Government provide an index to assist in the review of the extensive discovery provided thus far. In light of the continuing complexity of discovery and the need for the newest co-defendant's counsel to review the discovery and advise his client, over defense objections, the Court again found it in the interest of justice to suspend speedy trial until the next status conference, which is set for October 13, 2009.*fn1

In the meantime, on June 30, 2009, counsel for Mr. Parga-Rivas filed his motion to dismiss the indictment. See Dkt. # 13. The United States opposes the motion. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny Mr. Parga-Rivas's motion to dismiss.


A. Speedy Trial Act

Mr. Parga-Rivas notes that more than seventy days have passed since his first appearance before a judicial officer in connection with the instant case and a trial has not commenced. From those bare facts, he claims a clear and obvious violation of his rights under the Speedy Trial Act. See 18 U.S.C. § 3161(c)(1).

According to the United States, the evidence in the case includes the results of a lawful seizure in Colombia, in February 2007, by Colombian law enforcement of one of the alleged narcotics shipments, totaling 1089 kilograms of cocaine and 25 kilograms of heroin, with which Mr. Parga-Rivas and his co-defendants are charged. Colombian law enforcement also seized weapons, military gear, and communications devices. Additionally, the members of the alleged conspiracy were lawfully intercepted during judicially authorized wire intercepts between August 2006 and November 2007, discussing arrangements for shipments of cocaine. The Government also expects testimony from cooperating witnesses. It alleges that Mr. Parga-Rivas was an officer in the Colombian Army who worked with co-defendant Antonio Vicente Valera Amaya, a member of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). The Defendants are alleged to have operated in the countries of Colombia, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, the United States, and elsewhere.

Mr. Parga-Rivas was the first of the co-defendants to be extradited to the United States. Defendant Juan Carlos Bonilla-Medina was extradited on July 1, 2009, and Defendant Alvaro Montero-Monsalvo was extradited shortly thereafter. Defendant Antonio Vicente ValeraAmaya was not extradited as scheduled earlier this year because of a medical condition. Defendant Fabio Javier Gutierrez-Pacheco has been killed. The remaining named Defendants - Luis Eduardo Manjarres-Pumarejo, arrested in Colombia on May 9, 2009, and Arnulfo Sanchez-Gonzalez, still a fugitive - will not be extradited for many months, if ever, and the United States has stated that trial will not await their arrival.

Under these circumstances, the Court has no trouble concluding that the complexity of the case tolls speedy trial provisions. See 18 U.S.C. § 3161(h)(7)(B). In determining whether to grant a continuance, one factor the court must consider is

Whether the case is so unusual or complex, due to the number of defendants, the nature of the prosecution, or the existence of novel questions of fact or law, that it is unreasonable to expect adequate preparation for pretrial ...

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