The Death Knell Of Stabio V. Superior Court
by Richard Layon
Some of my earliest memories are of fishing along the banks of the canals which meander about the Imperial Valley; watching the sun set to the west, roasting those little Oscar Meyer hotdogs over a campfire surrounded by a cacophony of sounds emanating from the frogs, coyotes and crickets with one ear always toward the reel waiting–sometimes for hours–for the familiar “ZZZZZZZZZZZ” signalling that a catfish, or as was the case more often than not, a monster carp was carrying away the lowly nightcrawler impaled on the hook at the end of my line.
Since leaving the Imperial Valley I have had the good fortune to fish waters from the Sea of Cortez to the Gulf of Alaska. During the long hours–which fishing affords in copious quantities–doing a lot of nothing, I have often found parallels between fishing and the practice of law. For example, to name a few: (1) the more lines you have in the water, the better chance you have of catching a fish [translation: the more reasons you give a judge to grant your suppression motion the better chance you have of prevailing]; (2) never go fishing with a dull hook [translation: whether a trial or a motion, don’t go unless you are prepared]; (3) you can not catch any fish if your line is not in the water [translation: even if business is slow, if you don’t keep going to the office and taking calls, you will not get any new clients; finally, and most importantly for purposes of discussion presently, (4) there are certain feathers which, under certain conditions, always catch fish [translation: there are certain motions which, with the proper factual underpinnings, are always granted].
Specifically, I have a green and yellow “feather”, which always catches fish. Until recently, if the conditions were right, all species of tuna, jack and dorado would–it appeared–line-up and hit this feather with regularity.
On a recent fishing excursion out of Oceanside, I had—yet another—opportunity to ponder the lessons which fishing has to offer and draw parallels between the same and the practice of law; this was so because every tuna, jack and dorado in the area spurned by favorite feather. In fact, everything that I put into the water came out the way it went in; untouched by the lips of all things swimming. During the course of the aforementioned piscatorial repudiation, I had an epiphany, of sorts, relating to yet another pearl of wisdom which emanated from Poseidon’s realm, to wit: all feathers have their day after which they must be relegated to the trash heap [translation: even the best motions have a shelf life].
RIGHT TO A SPEEDY TRIAL
Both the United States Constitution and California Constitution guarantee a speedy trial to an accused or criminal defendant. Although the purposes of the federal and California constitutional speedy trial guarantees are similar, the two guarantees have developed along somewhat different lines. For example, although both guarantees attach on arrest of an accused, the federal guarantee attaches prior to arrest on the filing of a formal accusation of an indictment or information in felony cases or on the filing of a complaint in misdemeanor cases United States v. Marion, (1971) 404 U.S. 307, 320; Serna v. Superior Court, (1985) 40 Cal.3d 239, 262;
The California guarantee attaches prior to arrest on the filing of a complaint in both felony and misdemeanor cases. People v. Hannon, (1977) 19 Cal.3d 588, 608; Serna v. Superior Court, supra, at p. 248; People v. Hill, (1984) 37 Cal.3d 491, 497, fn. 3.
Under the United States Constitution’s speedy trial guarantee, a four-issuebalancing test is used to determine whether that guarantee is violated. Barker v. Wingo, (1972) 407 U.S. 514, 530-533; Doggett v. United States, (1992) 505 U.S. 647, 651.
Under the California Constitution’s speedy trial guarantee, a defendant must first sustain the burden of showing prejudice was caused by the delay and, if actual prejudice is shown, the burden shifts to the prosecution to establish a permissible justification for the delay. Serna v. Superior Court, supra, at pp. 249, 252. If justification is shown, the court weighs the justification against the actual prejudice suffered by the defendant. Ibid.
In contrast to California law which requires a showing of actual prejudice caused by the delay, federal law under the Barker balancing test permits a presumption of prejudice in certain situations depending on the length of the delay. Serna v. Superior Court, supra, at p. 252; Doggett v. United States,supra, at pp. 657-658.
STABIO V. SUPERIOR COURT
In 1994, Division One of the Fourth District Court of Appeals, in Stabio v. Superior Court, (1994) 21 Cal.App.4th 1488, discussed the four-part test set forth in Barker v. Wingo, supra, focusing specifically on the requirement that a defendant establish prejudice from the delay.
In Stabio, the prosecution filed a felony complaint in 1988 charging Stabio with two counts of grand theft. Stabio was not arrested until 1993. Ultimately, a speedy trial motion was filed and heard in the Superior Court; the court denied Stabio’s motion holding that he failed to establish actual prejudice. Ibidat pp. 1491-1494.
On appeal, the court discussed both the federal and State right to a speedy trial and then jumped directly into the application of the four part, Barker v. Wingo, supra, test and the presumption of prejudice, which is a function of time between the filing of an indictment and arrest, discussed in Doggett v. United States, supra. Stabio v. Superior Court, supra at pp. 1493-1495. The court in Stabio reversed the denial of Stabio’s motion and held that when applying the four part calculus, prejudice can be presumed where the delay is as long, if not longer, than the statute of limitations for the charged offense.Ibid at pp. 1498-1499. Though not explicitly stated in the opinion, the inference was that both the federal and State speedy trial rights were coextensive and the Barker analysis could be applied to a speedy trial claim grounded solely in the State Constitution.
Within a short time following the decision in Stabio coming out in the Daily Appellate Report, court dockets began filling with speedy trial motions. San Diego County was literally brimming with outstanding warrants, both misdemeanor and felony, which were not being executed for a variety reasons, all of which revolved around the county’s rather curious financial management in the years preceding, and following, the Stabio decision. Trial courts hearing these motions were routinely granting them and dismissing the underlying criminal complaints based upon the decision in Stabio and coupled with the fact that the extent of an individual’s constitutional protections should not be tied to the ebb and flow of the county’s fiscal woes. Following Stabio, given the appropriate factual scenario, these motions–much like my green and yellow feather–always worked.
THE FOURTH DCA’S RENUNCIATION OF STABIO
People V. Martinez
Three and on-half years later, Division One of the Fourth District Court of Appeals took the rather unusual step of declining to follow its own precedent in People v. Martinez, (1997) ___ Cal.App.4th ___ [as modified 8/29/97].
In Martinez, defendant was arrested for driving under the influence on September 6, 1991; on September 16, 1991 a felony complaint was filed against defendant and a notify letter, sent to last known address, was mailed indicating an arraignment date of September 30, 1991. Defendant failed to appear at her arraignment. Thereafter, a bench warrant issued for her arrest.
On February 19, 1992, the San Diego County Marshall’s Office discovered that defendant was residing in West Palm Beach Florida. It sent an abstract of the warrant, together with an address where the Marshall’s Office believed defendant could be found, to the local constable. On April 23, 1992, defendant’s warrant was placed in “due diligence file” of the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office; there it sat until November 28, 1995–apparently receiving the diligence it was due–when defendant was arrested.
Subsequently, defendant filed a motion to dismiss based upon a speedy trial violation relying on the court’s earlier decision in Stabio, supra. The trial court denied her motion based on the fact that defendant was unable to show actual prejudice; an appeal followed. Ibid at pp. 169-171.
At the outset, the court analyzed the distinctions between the federal and State guarantees relating to a defendant’s right to a speedy trial. It then went to the heart of the matter when it noted that its earlier decision in Stabio, which used the federal Barker analysis to examine the California right to a speedy trial, had received a significant criticism from other Courts of Appeal, not all of which was entirely warranted.
The Martinez court further noted an earlier decision in Sykes v. Superior Court, (1973) 9 Cal.3d 83 which observed:
“We hasten to note that . . . we may give and in fact have previously given meaning to our constitutional provision which derives from an ad hoc balancing test similar although not identical to that now employed in [Barker] …
“[I]n determining that the right to a speedy trial had been denied … we weighed the prejudicial effect of the delay on the defendant against the justification for the delay …. [Citation.] It appears that the [Barker] balancing test would have compelled the same result we reached [in using the California balancing test].” Sykes v. Superior Court, supraat p. 932
Prior to ultimately affirming the denial of Martinez’s motion because she could not demonstrate actual prejudice, the court broke from their brethren and held:
“To the extent this court’s opinion in Stabio holds that a presumption of prejudice may exist in an analysis of the California right to a speedy trial we decline to follow it.” People v. Martinez, supra, at p. 172.
Ultimately, the Martinez court’s holding caught the attention of the California Supreme Court inasmuch as review was granted in late 1997. As of the date of this article, no decision had been published by the Supreme Court.
Is Stabio dead? Currently we have two opinions out of the same district and the same division which are diametrically opposed. Though Proposition 115 was viewed, and rightly so, as a Pandora’s box by the defense bar and even some prosecutors, in this instance the law has changed in such a manner as to cut against the government. It appears that the California Supreme Court will do that which the Martinez court would not, that is to recognize the transformation caused by Proposition 115 in this area of protection afforded by the constitution. In any event, prior to the close of summer, we will certainly know whether Stabio–as well as my favorite green and yellow feather–will be relegated to history’s dust bin or elevated to precedental status.
- Rick Layon received his Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology from San Diego State University in 1986, and his Juris Doctor from Willamette University in 1990. Mr. Layon is chair of the Criminal Section of the North County Bar Association. He is a partner in the firm of Layon & Holck, A.P.L.C. and limits his practice to the area of criminal defense.
- For reasons which are entirely unclear, included in the original opinion in the advance sheet, but omitted in the published opinion, was a powerful and particularly convincing argument in favor of Stabio’s application of the federal test to speedy trial claims based upon the State constitution. Citing People v. Belton, (1992) 6 Cal.App.4th 1425, 1429, it was noted that the distinction between federal and California guarantees to a speedy trial has been blurred byu the passage in 1990 of Proposition 115 which amended Article I, Section 24 of the California Constitution to provide in part:”In criminal cases the rights of a defendant . . . to a speedy . . . trial shall be construed by the courts of this state in a manner consistent with the Constitution of the United States.” [97 DAR 10481, 10482, 8/13/97.]Notwithstanding the aforementioned, given that Proposition 115 was subsequent to both Serna, supra, and Crockett v Superior Court, (1975) 14 Cal.3d 433–which mandated a different State analysis demanding actual prejudice be demonstrated–the Martinez court declined to acknowledge a change in the law, leaving the California Supreme Court to make such a pronouncement. Ibid at p. 10482.