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Delaware Supreme Court dismisses Rape conviction for the States impermissible violation of the Defendant’s right to a speedy trial.

On March 10, 2008, in the case of Dabney v. State, the Delaware Supreme Court held that where a Defendant is incarcerated for over one year without trial, in default of bail on a Rape charge, because of delays caused by prosecutors he is entitled to have the Rape conviction dismissed for violation of the Defendant’s constitutionally protected speedy trial rights.

The Defendant was arrested in November of 2005 and indicted on January 9, 2006, yet the prosecutors did not submit evidence to a lab for DNA testing until March 1, 2006 only 36 days before the Defendant’s first scheduled trial date. The State re-indicted the Defendant on March 22, 2008, adding charges. The second trial date was set for June 13, 2006. On May 16, 2006 the State requested a continuance of the June trial date because the DNA testing and analysis “was incomplete”. On May 19, 2006, the Delaware Superior Court granted the State of Delaware’s rescheduling request, over the Defendant’s objection, setting the new trial for July 13, 2006 and ordering that the State provide the results of the DNA testing and analysis to the Defendant on or before June 13, 2006. While the State provided the Defendant with the testing results prior to June 13, 2006, they failed to provide the Defendant with the statistical analysis required by 11 Del.C. Section 3515. When the Defendant filed a pre-trial Motion in Limine objecting to the introduction of the DNA evidence, because of the State’s failure, the newly assigned prosecutor claimed “suprise” and argued that the statistical analysis required by 11 Del. C. Section 3515 was not necessary in this case because the Defendant and victim were related. The July 13, 2006 trial was rescheduled over the Defendant’s objections. On July 26, 2006, the State provided the previously unavailable and “unnecessary” statistical analysis to the Defendant. The trial eventually started on November 28, 2006, 372 days after the Defendant’s arrest and incarceration. On November 30, 2006, the Defendant was convicted on one Rape Second Degree charge (out of 3), three counts of Sexual Solicitation of a Child, three counts of Possession of Child Pornography and three counts of Sexual Exploitation of a Child. On February 16, 2007, the Defendant was sentenced to 16 years in jail.

The Delaware Supreme Court applied the four factor balancing test set forth in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (1972) adopted by Delaware in the case of Johnson v. State, 305 A.2d 622 (Del. 1973). The four factors are (1) the length of the delay; (2) the reason for the delay; (3) the defendant’s assertion of his speedy trial right; and (4) the resulting prejudice to the defendant. The first factor, length of the delay, is a trip wire which must be triggered before the court will consider the other three factors. The Delaware Supreme Court found that because the delay exceeded 1 year between incarceration and trial “we are compelled to find that the length of delay necessitates our consideration of the other Barker factors.” The court found that the State caused all of the delay and that the Defendant has asserted his speedy trial right when it objected to the State’s continuance request of May 2006. The court then went on to “analyze this prong “in light of three of defendants’ interests that the speedy trial right was designed to protect: (1) preventing oppressive pretrial incarceration; (2) minimizing the anxiety and concern of the accused: and (3) limiting the possibility that the defense will be impaired.” Middlebrook v. State, 802 A.2d 268 (2002) The Court stated: “Here the fundamental prejudice lies in the fact that Dabney remained incarcerated without trial in default of bail for over a year before trial. Where the defendant is incarcerated, intuitively it is more difficult for him to prepare for trial, to meet with counsel, and to participate in gathering evidence in his defense….The State’s preference to have DNA analysis available when it may have been unnecessary for all but one of the pending charges, did not outweigh the prejudice to a defendant imprisoned for over a year because he lacked the wherewithal to post bail.”
This opinion is noteworthy in Delaware, which has no per se statutory or judicially fixed deadlines in which to bring a person charged with a crime to trial, because it says that a one year delay of a trial of an incarcerated defendant on a bailable offense, which is not at the behest of the defendant, is a denial of a defendant’s constitutionally protected right to a speedy trial.

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