United States v. MacDonald

PETITIONER:United States
LOCATION:Allied Structural Steel Company: Industrial Construction Division

DOCKET NO.: 75-1892
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 435 US 850 (1978)
ARGUED: Jan 09, 1978
DECIDED: May 01, 1978

Bernard L. Segal – for respondent
Kenneth Steven Geller – for petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. MacDonald

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – January 09, 1978 in United States v. MacDonald

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – May 01, 1978 in United States v. MacDonald

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and the opinion of the Court in United States against Macdonald will be announced by Mr. Justice Blackmun.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Well this case comes to us by certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

The issue was whether a defendant who was indicted on a federal charge may appeal before trial, a federal district courts ordered denying his motion to dismiss an indictment because of an alleged violation of his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial.

The respondent Captain Macdonald was a physician in military service stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

In 1975, almost five years after Captain Macdonald’s wife and two children were murdered, he was indicted on three columns of first degree murder in violation of the federal statute.

Prior to trial the federal district court denied a motion to dismiss the indictment because of the alleged denial of his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial.

The Fourth Circuit allowed an interlocutory appeal on the authority of the cases it had decided earlier with respect to an allegation of double jeopardy.

By a divided vote, it reversed the District Court’s denial of respondent’s motion to dismiss on speedy trial grounds and remanded the case with the instructions to dismiss the indictment.

The government’s petition for rehearing, with a suggestion for rehearing en banc was denied by an evenly divided vote.

The panel majority recognized that the denial of a pretrial motion in a criminal case, generally is not appealable and that the point presented is to be decided on appeal after trial, but to an exception in this case, however, because of what it called the extraordinary nature of respondent’s case, and then on the merits, it decided the speedy trial claim in favor of the respondent again by a divided vote.

Because of the importance of the jurisdictional question to the criminal law, we granted certiorari.

Finality of judgment is been required as a predicate for federal appellate jurisdiction and to qualify for departure from that general prohibition against piecemeal appellate review, three factors must be met.

First the trial court’s order must constitute a complete, formal and final rejection of the defendant’s claim.

Second it must resolve an issue completely collateral to the cause of action asserted.

And finally it must involve and a right that would be lost perhaps irreparably if review had to await final judgment.

In an opinion filed today, we hold that a pretrial order rejecting a defendant’s speedy trial claim, does not represent a complete formal and final rejection in the trial court of the defendant’s claim.

The particular facts of the case, including an estimate of the degree to which delay has impaired an adequate defense can be carefully assessed only after trial and further the speedy trial claim, unlike a double jeopardy claim, is not sufficiently independent of the trial’s outcome to warrant pretrial appellate review.

Speedy trial rights are not lost if review must await final judgment.

By definition those rights are already lost before trial.

Allowing an exception to the rule against pretrial appeals in criminal cases for speedy trial claims would threateningly feel precisely the values manifested in the speedy trial clause of the Sixth Amendment.

Accordingly we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand the case for further proceedings.

Mr. Justice took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you, Mr. Justice Blackmun.