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United States v. Phinizy

United States District Court, District of Columbia

June 21, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
WILLIAM J. PHINIZY, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          AMY BERMAN JACKSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On October 22, 2018, defendant William J. Phinizy, a forty-nine-year-old decorated Army Sergeant, drove a car into a vehicle entry barrier at the White House, causing damage to the barrier. Agents of the United States Secret Service arrested him on the scene, charging him with assaulting, resisting, or impeding certain officers or employees in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 11 l(a)(1) and (b); destruction of government property in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1361; and physical violence against property in any restricted building or grounds in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1752(a)(4) and (b)(1). Compl. [Dkt. # 1]. At the time of his arrest, defendant stated to the Secret Service agent at the scene that "he was trying to get away from people that were chasing him, and that this was his last hope." Aff. of Wyatt Griffith [Dkt. # 1-1] ¶ 7. He "also stated that he had bugs inside of him." Id.

         Following a forensic screening, on October 31, 2018, the Magistrate Judge committed defendant to the custody of the Attorney General for a competency evaluation at a federal facility pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §§ 4241 and 4247(b) and Local Criminal Rule 57.l7(a)(l4). Order [Dkt. # 7]; Min. Entry (Oct. 31, 2018). As a result of a number of distinct circumstances, it took approximately eighty-four days to transport defendant to the facility that would conduct the evaluation. Defendant then moved to dismiss the indictment on the grounds that his rights under the Speedy Trial Act had been violated; he emphasized that pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3161 (h)(1)(F), a delay for purposes of transportation that exceeds ten days is presumed to be unreasonable. Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss Case for Speedy Trial Act Violation [Dkt. # 10] ("Def.'s Mot.") at 5.[1]

         The Court has now reviewed the entire record of materials submitted by both parties. While the government has not adequately justified all of the delays and errors made along the way, the Court finds that some of the delays were reasonable and should be excluded from the Speedy Trial calculation, and the arithmetic that arises out of this analysis leads to the conclusion that the seventy days has not yet expired. Therefore, the motion to dismiss will be denied.

         BACKGROUND

         On October 23, 2018, during defendant's initial appearance in front of a Magistrate Judge, the government moved for temporary detention (three-day hold) and for a forensic screening to be conducted by the Department of Behavioral Health. Min. Entry (Oct. 23, 2018). The motions were granted. Id. On October 25, 2018, the grand jury returned an indictment charging defendant with destruction of government property and physical violence against property, but not with the assault on the officers. Indictment [Dkt. # 4]. The next day, the Court continued the arraignment to October 31, 2018, because the Department of Behavioral Health had not completed its forensic screening. See Min. Entry (Oct. 26, 2018). The government then moved for pretrial detention and to commit defendant to the custody of the Attorney General for a full competency evaluation. Gov.'s Mem. in Supp. of Pretrial Detention and for Competency Hearing [Dkt. # 5] ("Gov.'s Pretrial Mot."). On October 30, 2018, the Department of Behavioral Health submitted the forensic screening report to the Court, see Forensic Report [Dkt. # 6], and the next day, the Magistrate Judge granted the government's motion to commit defendant to the custody of the Attorney General for a psychological competency evaluation. Min. Entry (Oct. 31, 2018). The Magistrate Judge stayed the motion for pretrial detention pending the resolution of the question of defendant's competency. Id.

         On January 21, 2019, defendant moved to dismiss the indictment based upon a violation of the Speedy Trial Act. See Def.'s Mot. Defendant asserted that eighty-seven days had passed since the Magistrate Judge had ordered that he be transported for the competency evaluation, [2] and he argued that since he had not been brought to trial within the seventy-day time period required by the Speedy Trial Act, the case must be dismissed. Id. at 5, citing 18 U.S.C. § 3161.[3]

         In its opposition to the motion, the government took the position that there had been no Speedy Trial Act violation because a motion for pretrial detention had been pending since defendant's first appearance, and the Speedy Trial Act excludes the time resulting from "any pretrial motion." Gov.'s Opp. to Def.'s Mot. [Dkt. # 13] ("Gov.'s Opp.") at 7. The government also pointed out that defendant did not formally enter his not guilty plea until February 26, 2019, and it argued that under the Act, the Speedy Trial clock did not begin to run until that time. See Gov.'s Response to Court Order [Dkt. # 18] ("Gov.'s Resp.") at 3. Finally, the government maintained that the time it took to transport defendant to the competency evaluation was reasonable and should be excluded from the Speedy Trial Act calculation. Gov.'s Opp. at 8-9.

         On March 18, 2019, the Court issued an Order rejecting the government's first two contentions. Order [Dkt. # 29]. The Order noted that while under the Speedy Trial Act, any delay "resulting from" a pretrial motion may be excluded, the delay in transporting defendant to a federal facility while the detention motion was pending did not result from the motion. Id. at 3. The Court further explained that while the entry of a not guilty plea triggers the applicability of the Speedy Trial Act, the date the plea is entered is not the "start date" for purposes of calculating how many days have passed. Id. at 3-4. In connection with the determination of the reasonableness of the delay, the Court ordered the government to submit any records substantiating the asserted grounds for the delay by March 22. Id. at 5.

         Over the week of March 22, 2019, the government submitted twelve exhibits. Gov.'s Response to Mar. 18, 2019 Court Order [Dkt. # 33]; Gov.'s Suppl. [Dkt. # 35]. At a status conference on March 25, the Court indicated its intention to rule based on the record before it, but the defense requested an opportunity to file an additional submission in June addressing the periods of delay in more detail. On June 5, 2019, defendant submitted a supplement to his motion to dismiss, arguing that the time it took to transfer defendant to his competency evaluation was unreasonable. Def.'s Suppl. at 3. The government replied to this supplement on June 14, 2019. Gov.'s Reply to Def.'s Suppl. [Dkt. # 62] ("Gov.'s Reply").

         ANALYSIS

         The Speedy Trial Act states:

In any case in which a plea of not guilty is entered, the trial of a defendant charged in an information or indictment with the commission of an offense shall commence within seventy days from the filing date (and making public) of the information or indictment, or from the date the defendant has appeared before a judicial ...

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