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7 Years Pre-Trial Incarceration: Vacated Convictions

This decision is a rare example of a criminal defendant actually getting permanent relief based on a violation of his speedy trial rights.

Joseph Tigano, III and his father, Joseph Tigano, Sr., were arrested on July 8, 2008 on charges related to a marijuana growing enterprise allegedly operated by the two men. When Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) task force members executed a search warrant at the Tiganos’ residence on the morning of the arrest, they discovered over 1,400 marijuana plants. On October 2, 2008, Tigano and his father were each indicted on six counts. Four of the counts charged drug offenses related to the alleged marijuana growing operation; the remaining two counts charged weapons offenses stemming from firearms found at the residence.

Nearly five years later, on November 25, 2013, Tigano’s father pled guilty to one count of manufacturing 50 or more marijuana plants. Tigano refused to accept a plea and proceeded to trial—nearly seven years after his arrest—on May 4, 2015. He was convicted by a jury on May 8, 2015 on five of the six counts in the indictment. Tigano was imprisoned during the entirety of the nearly seven years of pretrial proceedings. On appeal, Tigano argued that his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial had been violated by an oppressive period of pretrial incarceration.

Writing for the Court, Judge Pooler concluded that Tigano’s nearly seven years of pretrial incarceration were “egregiously oppressive.” With unusually stern language, she continued:

The pretrial detention experienced by Joseph Tigano, III appears to be the longest ever experienced by a defendant in a speedy trial case in the Second Circuit. Tigano’s experience is an extreme outlier even among the severe examples found within Sixth Amendment case law. Yet no single, extraordinary factor caused the cumulative seven years of pretrial delay. Instead, the outcome was the result of countless small choices and neglects, none of which was individually responsible for the injustice suffered by Tigano, but which together created this extreme instance of a Sixth Amendment violation. A review of the procedural history reveals that Tigano was the victim of poor trial management and general indifference at every level toward this low-priority defendant in a straightforward case.

She then recounted, in exhaustive detail, and broken down over eight separate time periods from July 8, 2008 to May 3, 2015, the various events that caused the long delays that ensued; and she analyzed those events in the context of four key factors that the Supreme Court determined, in Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (1972), should be considered when deciding whether Tigano’s Sixth Amendment rights had been violated. Those four, non-exclusive, factors are: “length of delay, the reason for the delay, the defendant’s assertion of his right, and prejudice to the defendant.” Judge Pooler’s analysis led to the following conclusions:

Weighing the four Barker factors leads us to the inescapable conclusion that Tigano’s Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial was violated by his nearly seven years of pretrial incarceration. The reasons for delay fall largely on the district court and government attorneys. Tigano’s repeated assertions of his right to a speedy trial place him on the extreme end of our Circuit’s case law. His repeated pleas for trial also speak to the fourth and final prong, the prejudice suffered by Tigano in the form of anxiety and the oppressiveness of his lengthy period of pretrial incarceration. The only remedy is to dismiss the case with prejudice ....

We reiterate that the nearly seven years of pretrial detention in this case, as well as Tigano’s single-minded focus on obtaining a speedy trial, present extreme facts in the speedy trial context. In other words, these facts represent what we expect will be a ceiling, rather than a floor, for Sixth Amendment analysis. Yet the case is no less significant because of its outlier status. Years of subtle neglects resulted in a flagrant violation of Tigano’s Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial .... Tigano’s years of imprisonment represent a failure of our courts to comply with their obligation to bring defendants to “a speedy and public trial.”  See: U.S. v. Tigano, 880 F.3d 602 (2d Cir. 2018).

This article originally appeared in the January 2018 issue of Punch & Jurists and is reprinted with permission.

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Related legal case

U.S. v. Tigano



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