The California Supreme Court has made it harder for criminal defendants to demonstrate that their speedy trial rights have been violated by the prosecution’s delay in informing them of the charges. In a 7-0 decision handed down on March 29, the high court held that the chance to serve a concurrent sentence alone will not be sufficient to demonstrate a speedy trial violation. Instead, they “must show that the delay has impaired the ability to defend against the charged crime because, for instance, a witness has become unavailable, evidence has disappeared or the memory of a potential witness has faded.” People v Lowe, 2007 DJDAR 4195. Lowe contended that the prosecution’s delay in informing him of the charges against him prevented him from the opportunity of serving two separate sentences concurrently.
Lowe was arrested on October 18, 2002 after his estranged wife complained to police that he had been sending her threatening messages. When police found sitting in his car near her home, he was found to be in possession of a pipe bomb and under the influence of methamphetamine. Lowe spent four days in jail and was released because charges had not been filed by the date set for his arraignment. About a month later, on November 29, he was arrested in Alameda County on an alleged probation violation stemming from the pipe-bomb incident. He had been on probation in Alameda for an unrelated offense and his arrest on October 18th violated the conditions of probation. Lowe admitted the probation violation on February 6, 2003 and was sentenced to one year in the Alameda County Jail.
Four days later, on February 10, 2003, the Santa Clara DA filed charges stemming from the pipe bomb incident on October 18. An arrest warrant was issued on March 13 but Lowe was never notified of the charges or the warrant. The Alameda County Jail wasn’t notified of the warrant until June 26, four and a half months after the charges were filed. On July 8, Lowe finished his jail term in Alameda and thought he was getting out when he found out about the new charges in Santa Clara. He moved to dismiss the charges alleging the nearly five month delay between the filing of the complaint in February and his arraignment in July, citing the speedy trial provisions of the California Constitution. He also argued that the nine month delay from October 2002, the time the alleged crimes took place, to July 2003, when he was arraigned, violated his right to due process under both the State and Federal Constitutions.