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First Circuit Holds Sixth Amendment Speedy Trial Clock Starts Upon Original, Not Superseding, Indictment When Based on Same Act or Scheme

by Dale Chappell

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held that a superseding indictment based on the same conduct as the original indictment does not reset the Sixth Amendment speedy trial clock and affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the charge in the indictment.

In March 2011, the government charged Raman Handa with 12 counts of wire fraud, but the government never notified him or his attorneys of the charges. When the government could not find Handa, it alerted the International Criminal Police Organization (“INTERPOL”) that there was a warrant for Handa’s arrest. Thereafter, the government made no effort to find Handa, even though he had been openly living in India and in England. He also had visited the U.S. embassy in India to update his passport with his address in New Delhi and applied for and received Social Security and Medicare benefits. The government finally got its man when Handa flew to Los Angeles in February 2017, where he was arrested on the 2011 charges.

Handa invoked his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial at his arraignment and filed a motion to dismiss the charges on speedy trial grounds. Two days before its response was due, the government filed a superseding indictment, adding a new charge for bank fraud, which the government claimed stemmed from a new investigation. The U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, however, dismissed the 2011 charges, finding that the delay “of nearly six years created a presumption of prejudice.” When Handa moved to dismiss the bank fraud charge, the court agreed and held that the speedy trial clock for that charge began with the 2011 charges. The government appealed.

The Sixth Amendment guarantees a defendant the right to a speedy trial. This right promotes the interests of rehabilitation, minimizes the time the accused is on bond, prevents “oppressive” pretrial incarceration, minimizes anxiety of the accused, and shortens the disruption of life caused by arrest and unresolved charges, the U.S. Supreme Court instructed in United States v. Loud Hawk, 474 U.S. 302 (1986). Whether this right is violated depends on (1) the length of the delay, (2) the reason for the delay, (3) the defendant’s assertion of his right, and (4) prejudice to the accused because of the delay. Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (1972).

The only issue here was the first Barker factor, viz., the length of delay. Courts, including the First Circuit, have held that more than a year’s delay is presumptively prejudicial. The government argued that because the superseding indictment was based on a new charge, double jeopardy concerns were not a factor and did not prevent the speedy trial clock from restarting. The Court disagreed, stating that double jeopardy principles play no part in a speedy trial violation analysis.

According to the Court, “the state-date question is not subject to per se rules—e.g., that the date of the original indictment is always the start date, or that it is never the start date when a new indictment adds charges.” Instead, a Sixth Amendment speedy trial inquiry “requires careful consideration of all the factual circumstances presented.”

With those principles in mind, the Court held: “on these facts, that the bringing of the additional charge does not reset the Sixth Amendment speedy trial clock to the date of a superseding indictment where (1) the additional charge and the charge for which the defendant was previously accused are based on the same act or transaction … and (2) the government could have, with diligence, brought the additional charge at the time of the prior accusation.”

The Court determined that the bank-fraud charge and the original wire-fraud charges were based on the same act or transaction or common scheme or plan. Further, with diligence, the government could have brought the band-fraud charge in the original 2011 indictment. Consequently, the period of delay for speedy trial analysis is measured from the date of the initial indictment in March 2011. The over six-year delay between that date and the bank-fraud charge is sufficient to trigger a Baker test inquiry, and the Court found no abuse of discretion by the district court in concluding Handa was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial.

Accordingly, the First Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the bank-fraud charge in the superseding indictment. See: United States v. Handa, 892 F.3d 95 (1st Cir. 2018). 


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Related legal case

United States v. Handa



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