In The

Supreme Court of the United States




Decided June 24, 1992

Justice O’Connor, Dissenting

Topic: Criminal Procedure*Court vote: 5–4
Note: No other Justices joined this opinion.
Citation: 505 U.S. 647 Docket: 90–857Audio: Listen to this case's oral arguments at Oyez

* As categorized by the Washington University Law Supreme Court Database

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JUSTICE O'CONNOR, dissenting.

I believe the Court of Appeals properly balanced the considerations set forth in Barker v. Wingo, 407 U. S. 514 (1972). Although the delay between indictment and trial was lengthy, petitioner did not suffer any anxiety or restriction on his liberty. The only harm to petitioner from the lapse of time was potential prejudice to his ability to defend his case. We have not allowed such speculative harm to tip the scales. Instead, we have required a showing of actual prejudice to the defense before weighing it in the balance. As we stated in United States v. Loud Hawk, 474 U. S. 302, 315 (1986), the "possibility of prejudice is not sufficient to support respondents' position that their speedy trial rights were violated. In this case, moreover, delay is a two-edged sword. It is the Government that bears the burden of proving its case beyond a reasonable doubt. The passage of time may make it difficult or impossible for the Government to carry this burden." The Court of Appeals followed this holding, and I believe we should as well. For this reason, I respectfully dissent.


3 Citing United States v. Broce, 488 U. S. 563, 569 (1989), the Government argues that, by pleading guilty, Doggett waived any right to claim that the delay would have prejudiced him had he gone to trial. Brief for United States 30. Yet Doggett did not sign a guilty plea simpliciter, but a conditional guilty plea under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(a)(2), thereby securing the Government's explicit consent to his reservation of "the right to appeal the adverse Court ruling on his Motion to Dismiss for violation of Constitutional Speedy Trial provisions based upon post-indictment delay." Plea Agreement, 2 Record, Exh. 66, p. 1. One cannot reasonably construe this agreement to bar Doggett from pursuing as effective an appeal as he could have raised had he not pleaded guilty.

4 While the Government ably counters Doggett's efforts to demonstrate particularized trial prejudice, it has not, and probably could not have, affirmatively proved that the delay left his ability to defend himself unimpaired. Cf. Uviller, 72 Colum. L. Rev., at 1394-1395.

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