U.S. Court upholds COVID delay in criminal trials, citing half million deaths. Speedy Trial Act.

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented courts with unprecedented
challenges. Among these challenges is determining when and how to conduct jury trials without endangering public health and safety and without undermining the constitutional right to a jury trial. The United States appeals from the district court’s dismissal with prejudice of an indictment against Defendant Jeffrey Olsen. Olsen was indicted in July 2017 on thirty-four counts related to the unlawful distribution of opioids. He has since remained on pretrial release and has obtained eight continuances of his trial date, most recently scheduled for October 13, 2020. After the Central District of California suspended jury trials due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, Olsen invoked, for the first time, his right to a speedy trial. Because jury trials were suspended, the government requested a continuance of Olsen’s trial under 18 U.S.C. § 3161(h)(7)(A)—the Speedy Trial Act’s “ends of justice” provision. The district court denied the request and, ultimately, dismissed the charges against Olsen with prejudice, concluding that continuances under the ends of justice provision are appropriate only if holding a criminal jury trial would be impossible.

Because the district court erred in its reading of 18 U.S.C.
§ 3161(h)(7)(A), we reverse with instructions to reinstate Olsen’s indictment, grant an appropriate ends of justice continuance, and set this case for trial.

Full opinion here: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v. JEFFREY OLSEN, https://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2021/04/23/20-50329.pdf

Anton Vialtsin, Esq.
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