United States v. Lovasco

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Eugene Lovasco
LOCATION: Terminal Railroad Association (where Lovasco allegedly stole the firearms from a mail facility)

DOCKET NO.: 75-1844
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 431 US 783 (1977)
ARGUED: Mar 21, 1977 / Mar 22, 1977
DECIDED: Jun 09, 1977

ADVOCATES:
John P. Rupp - for the petitioner
Louis Gilden -

Facts of the case

On March 6, 1975, federal prosecutors indicted Eugene Lovasco for the possession of stolen firearms and for dealing in firearms without a license. The indictment alleged that Lovasco committed the offenses between July 25 and August 31, 1973—more than 18 months before the prosecutors filed the indictment. Lovasco moved to dismiss the indictment on the grounds that the delay was unnecessary and prejudicial to his defense, as two of his witnesses had died in the interim. The district court found that the government had collected all of the necessary information to indict Lovasco within a month of the alleged commission of crimes and granted the motion to dismiss. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed.

Question

By indicting Lovasco for crimes he allegedly committed 18 months prior, did the government violate either: (1) the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial or (2) his due process rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment?

Media for United States v. Lovasco

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 22, 1977 in United States v. Lovasco
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 21, 1977 in United States v. Lovasco

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 09, 1977 in United States v. Lovasco

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in Number 75-1844, United States against Lovasco will be announced by Mr. Justice Marshall.

Thurgood Marshall:

This case is here on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

The advantage of this case is to reconsider the circumstances in which the Constitution requires that an indictment be dismissed because a delay between the commission of the offense and the initiation of the prosecution.

The Court of Appeals haven't responded and have been deprived with due process by an 18-month delay whose only purpose was to enable the Government to discover other participants in the crime which was -- ultimately was charged.

In an opinion filed with clerk today, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

We hold that investigative delay is not fundamentally unfair to criminal defendants, since it ensures that they will not be indicted until the prosecutor is completely satisfied that he should prosecute and he will be able properly to establish guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

Mr. Justice Stevens has filed a dissenting opinion.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you, Mr. Justice Marshall.