On September 12, 2013, the First District Court of Appeals reversed Mr. Niles’ conviction for lewd and lascivious molestation on the grounds that he was denied his right to speedy trial. This appeal was litigated and argued by Mr. Sheppard with Ms. White as his co-counsel.
The facts forming the basis of Mr. Niles’ appeal are as follows. On March 6, 2000, a capias was issued for Mr. Niles’ arrest. More than eight years later, he was arrested on a capias. During those eight years, Mr. Niles bought a home in Florida, which he homesteaded, obtained a valid Florida driver’s license and used a valid United States passport on multiple occasions to travel abroad and return to the United States. At no time during those eight years was he notified of the existence of pending charges until he was arrested on the outstanding capias. Nor did authorities undertake any efforts to locate Mr. Niles until a warrant for his arrest was entered in a national database. It was this simple action which resulted in this arrest.
Reviewing courts look to four factors to determine whether the right to a speedy trial has been violated. Those factors are: (1) length of delay; (2) reasons for delay, (3) assertion of the right; and (4) prejudice to the defendant. Here, due to the extraordinary delay in arresting Mr. Niles, the first factor weighed heavily against the State. Similarly, the second factor was weighed against the State due to the complete lack of effort on its part to locate him. Indeed, “…the State correctly concede[d] that its own negligence contributed to the delay.” Since the State never notified Mr. Niles of the pending charges against him, he could not have asserted his right to a speedy trial. Citing Doggett, the Niles court concluded, “the defendant is ‘not to be taxed for invoking his speedy trial right only after his arrest,’ if he is unaware that he was under indictment or that ‘the police had come looking for him.'” Once Mr. Niles was aware of the charges, he immediately asserted his right, this factor also weighed in his favor.
The fourth factor of prejudice to the defendant is one which ordinarily requires actual prejudice. Where, as here, however, the first three factors weigh heavily against the State, prejudice to the defendant is presumed. The lengthy delay, which was not attributable in any way to Mr. Niles, shifted the burden to the State to affirmatively prove the delay did not impair Mr. Niles’ ability to prepare a defense. Because the State failed to introduce any such evidence, all factors weighed in Mr. Niles’ favor and his conviction was reversed.
Sheppard, White and Kachergus, P.A., successfully litigated Doggett v. United States before the United States Supreme Court over twenty-one years ago. Doggett has become the bedrock for an analysis of the right to a speedy trial in cases litigated throughout the United States. It was, therefore, gratifying to see the Doggett analysis utilized by the First District to reverse Mr. Niles’ conviction.