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Nevada Supreme Court: 26-Month Delay Between Charges and Arrest Constitutes Speedy Trial Violation

by Anthony Accurso 

The Supreme Court of Nevada held that a district court did not abuse its discretion after the State’s “gross negligence” caused a 26-month delay between charges filed and arrest.

Rigoberto Inzunza was living with 9-year-old E.J.’s mother in Las Vegas in 2008. During this time, Inzunza is alleged to have sexually assaulted the girl when her mother was at work and her siblings were asleep. This abuse is alleged to have continued until Inzunza moved to New Jersey around 2009.

In late 2014, E.J. disclosed the abuse during therapy, and her mother took her to the North Las Vegas Police Department (“NLVPD”) to file a complaint. During their meeting with Detective Mark Hoyt, E.J.’s mother gave him information from Inzunza’s Facebook profile, which indicated his home and work addresses in New Jersey. Hoyt turned the complaint over to the District Attorney’s Office, which filed charges and issued a warrant for Inzunza’s arrest.

However, the DA’s office did not notify the NLVPD about the warrant being issued, nor did the department follow-up on the case.

Inzunza was arrested 26 months later on January 29, 2017, and filed to have the charges dismissed due to the delay between the issuance of the charges and his arrest. The district court granted his motion, and the State appealed, claiming the district court abused its discretion.

With regards to a defendant’s right under the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to a speedy trial, the Nevada Supreme Court “gives deference to the district court’s factual findings and reviews them for clear error, but reviews the court’s legal conclusions de novo.” United States v. Gregory, 322 F.3d 1157 (9th Cir. 2003). 

Speedy trial violations are analyzed under a four-part test set forth in Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (1972) and clarified in Doggett v. United States, 505 U.S. 647 (1992). These factors include “[l]ength of delay, the reason for the delay, the defendant’s assertion of his right, and prejudice to the defendant.” Barker. There are no hard and fast rules with respect to speedy-trial challenges; “each case must be decided on its own facts.” United States v. Clark, 83 F.3d 1350 (11th Cir. 1996). In addition, no “one factor is determinative; rather, they are related factors which must be considered together with such other circumstances as may be relevant.” United States v. Ferreira, 665 F.3d 701 (6th Cir. 2011).  

The length of delay in this case was 26 months. “Most courts have found a delay that approaches one year is presumptively prejudicial.” United States v. Corona-Verbera, 509 F.3d 1105 (9th Cir. 2007). As for the reason for the delay, the Court determined the State was grossly negligent in failing to proactively apprehend Inzunza despite having ample time and knowing his whereabouts with great specificity. The State countered that it is standard policy to simply enter warrants in to the NCIC database and for the NLVPD to pursue other cases when the case at hand is not “high profile” but rather a “common sexual assault” case. 

Regarding the State’s delay, the Court quoted from Barker: “A deliberate attempt to delay the trial in order to hamper the defense should be weighted heavily against the government. A more neutral reason such as negligence or overcrowded courts should be weighted less heavily but nevertheless should be considered since the ultimate responsibility for such circumstances must rest with the government rather than the defense.” 

As for Inzunza’s invocation of his Sixth Amendment rights only after arrest, the State failed to produce any evidence that he knew he was under indictment prior to then. A defendant who is ignorant as to the formal charges against him “is not to be taxed for invoking his speedy trial right only after his arrest.” Doggett. 

The final prong, prejudice to the defense, is difficult to prove because “time’s erosion of exculpatory evidence and testimony can rarely be shown.” Doggett. Given the length of delay between charge and arrest, despite the State’s having enough information to easily locate him, the Court granted Inzunza the presumption of prejudice, against which the State’s only argument was the accepted policy of the NLVPD regarding the lack of communication with the DA’s office. 

The State also claimed that Inzunza couldn’t have been prejudiced by the delay because the victim could have merely waited longer to report the crime due to the statute of limitations. The Court dismissed this argument by explaining that the State was confusing the statute of limitations with speedy-trial guarantees, which are legally distinct. 

Accordingly, the Court upheld the decision of the district court dismissing the sexual assault charges against Inzunza due to the State’s gross negligence in failing to arrest him in a timely manner after charging him. See: State v. Inzunza, 454 P.3d 727 (Nev. 2019). 

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Related legal case

State v. Inzunza

 

 

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