United States V. Lovasco Case Brief

Why is the case important?

Respondent, Lovasco, brought this action when he was indicted eighteen (18) months after the offenses of his indictment occurred.

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

Whether prejudice to the defendant, alone, is enough to dismiss a case for lack of a speedy trial.

Answer

“Reversed. By looking at several factors, the Supreme Court, in an opinion authored by Justice Marshall, found there to be a balancing test to determine what is speedy in the context of the constitutional mandate for a speedy trial-in addition to the prejudice the defendant faces, the following interests of justice must also be considered:
First, the court says that not every delay-caused detriment should abort a criminal prosecution


  • Conclusion

    Holding that even a lengthy pre-indictment delay that caused some prejudice did not violate a defendant’s U.S. Const. amends. VI, XIV rights to a speedy trial and due process, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the lower courts. The Court held that a pre-indictment delay was wholly irrelevant for amend. VI purposes because the constitutional right to a speedy trial attached only after defendant was accused by indictment or information, or was actually restrained by arrest and detention to answer for a criminal charge. The Court also held that amend. XIV had a limited role to play in protecting against oppressive delay. The Court held that the death of two potential witnesses during the delay was not sufficient prejudice because defendant had not shown how their testimony would have aided the defense. The Court concluded that it could not discern how the investigatory delay violated those fundamental conceptions of justice that lay at the base of the American civil and political institutions and that defined the community’s sense of fair play and decency.

    • Case Brief: 1977
    • Petitioner: United States
    • Respondent: Eugene Lovasco
    • Decided by: Burger Court

    Citation: 431 US 783 (1977)
    Argued: Mar 21 – 22, 1977
    Decided: Jun 9, 1977