Appeal from judgment of sentence of Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, of Philadelphia, March T., 1969, No. 907, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. James Williams.
Louis Lipschitz, for appellant.
David Richman, Assistant District Attorney, with him Albert L. Becker, Assistant District Attorney, Richard A. Sprague, First Assistant District Attorney, and F. Emmett Fitzpatrick, District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.
Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts. Mr. Chief Justice Jones took no part in the consideration or decision of this case. Mr. Justice Eagen and Mr. Justice O'Brien concur in the result.
The right to speedy trial is "one of the most basic rights preserved by our Constitution." Klopfer v. North Page 504} Carolina, 386 U.S. 213, 226, 87 S. Ct. 988, 995 (1967). Nevertheless, our criminal justice system is unfortunately at times plagued by delay. We must today decide whether a delay of more than three and one-half years in bringing an accused to trial violates the right to speedy trial.
James Williams was arrested on February 9, 1968. Three and one-half years later a jury found him guilty of voluntary manslaughter. Sentence of three to twelve years imprisonment was imposed. Prior to trial appellant had moved to quash the indictment alleging that he had been denied his constitutional right to speedy trial. The motion to quash was denied. We conclude that the three and one-half year hiatus between arrest and trial denied appellant his constitutionally-guaranteed right to speedy trial.*fn1 We therefore reverse the judgment of sentence and dismiss the indictment.*fn2
During his three and one-half year pretrial incarceration*fn3 appellant was represented successively by four court-appointed lawyers. Approximately two months after appellant's arrest the court permitted his first court-appointed lawyer to withdraw from the case. Appellant's second appointed counsel represented him for more than two years. During this period numerous attempts were made to certify appellant, then a juvenile, to be tried as an adult. Each attempt was aborted due to conflicts in court-appointed counsel's schedule. In February 1969, about a year after appellant's arrest, the certification hearing was waived and appellant was indicted. The case was not listed for trial until July 1970. This listing was later discontinued and on September 17, 1970, the court permitted defense counsel to withdraw.
From September 17 to November 5, 1970, appellant's mother attempted, unsuccessfully, to retain private counsel in order to expedite her son's trial. On November 5, 1970, appellant's third lawyer was appointed. Several pretrial motions, including a motion to dismiss the indictment, were immediately filed.*fn4 The motions were denied.
On June 29, 1971, the third lawyer was permitted to withdraw and appellant's present counsel was appointed. Trial was listed for August, but because
counsel was not informed of the proposed trial date a postponement was granted. The trial finally began on September 22, 1971. Appellant ...