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United States v. Okoro

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

December 10, 2019




         Before the court is the Motion to Dismiss for Violation of Defendant's Right to a Speedy Trial Due to Pre-Arrest Delay (Doc. 42) filed by Defendant Omoefe Okoro (“Defendant” or “Okoro”). For the reasons stated below, the court shall deny the motion.

         I. Background

         On September 26, 2012, a grand jury indicted Okoro of mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy, based on the United States Attorney's Office's (“USAO”) allegations that Okoro conspired with a group to defraud several law firms out of thirty million dollars. Okoro, however, was not arrested until February 14, 2017. Between those two dates, the USAO went through an extensive process seeking to extradite Okoro from Canada. The USAO coordinated with the Office of International Affairs (“OIA”) of the Criminal Division of the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) to submit sufficient paperwork and proof to acquire the aid of Canadian law enforcement in extraditing Okoro. The United States and Canada have an agreement, by treaty, to cooperate with each other in the extradition of criminals. Canada has complied with the treaty by creating its own internal process for reviewing extradition applications from the United States. While extradition was ultimately successful, this process resulted in an over four-year delay in arresting Okoro.

         On June 3, 2019, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the indictment, arguing, in large part, that the delay in acquiring Okoro's arrest was due to negligent conduct by the USAO. (Doc. 42.) On June 25, 2019, the USAO filed a response, thoroughly laying out the steps it took in attempting to extradite Okoro from Canada. (Doc. 50.) On September 30, 2019, the court held an evidentiary hearing on the matter, whereby the parties elicited testimony from Judge Christy Fawcett, a former Assistant United States Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania from 2000 to 2016. On October 10, 2019, Defendant filed, by leave of court, a supplemental brief in support of his motion to dismiss. (Doc. 61.) This matter is thus ripe for resolution.

         II. Standard of Review

         The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution states that “[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial[.]”[1] The United States Supreme Court has held that the Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial is distinct from “the accused's other constitutional rights” because a long delay in being tried does not inherently prejudice a defendant in the same way being deprived of a lawyer or the opportunity to defend oneself would; in fact, “deprivation of the right may work to the accused's advantage.” Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 521 (1972). “[T]he right to a speedy trial is a more vague concept than other procedural rights. It is, for example, impossible to determine with precision when the right has been denied.” Id. In contrast to other court-constructed remedies, like the exclusionary rule, the “amorphous quality of the right” to a speedy trial “leads to the unsatisfactorily severe remedy of dismissal of the indictment when the right have been deprived . . . mean[ing] that a defendant who may be guilty of a serious crime will go free, without having been tried. . . . but it is the only possible remedy.” Id. at 522.

         Considering the peculiarity of the right to a speedy trial, the Supreme Court laid out four factors for courts to balance: “Length of delay, the reason for the delay, the defendant's assertion of his right, and prejudice to the defendant.” Id. at 530. The court must consider these factors in light of the complexity of the crime of which the defendant is accused. Id.

         III. Discussion.

         The first Barker factor requires “a double enquiry.” Doggett v. United States, 505 U.S. 647, 651 (1992). First, the court must apply a threshold test, considering the raw length of time between the defendant being accused of a crime and being arrested. The length of delay must be sufficiently long to create presumptive prejudice before the court conducts a full analysis of the Barker factors. United States v. Velazquez, 749 F.3d 161, 174 (3d Cir. 2014). Here, the parties agree that, even under the USAO's framing of the issue, a roughly four-year delay occurred between Okoro being accused and arrested. This is sufficient to warrant moving forward in the analysis. See Id. (holding a fourteen-month delay is sufficient to trigger a full Barker analysis) (citing United States v. Battis, 589 F.3d 673, 678 (3d Cir. 2009)); accord Doggett, 505 U.S. at 652 n.1 (holding the circuit courts have generally held a delay of close to one year satisfies the first factor). Thus, the court turns to the second facet of the delay factor, “the extent to which the delay stretches beyond the bare minimum needed to trigger judicial examination of the claim.” Doggett, 505 U.S. at 652. Here, the court notes that a four-year delay, on its own, is substantial. This factor thus weighs against the USAO. The court must now turn to examining the cause for such delay, allocating the portion attributable to any unreasonable conduct by the USAO.

         In examining the USAO's conduct, the court begins by noting that USAO culpability can be grouped into categories resting on four tiers. At the top is the USAO intentionally delaying trial to gain a tactical advantage over the defendant, an act which would be “weighted heavily against the government.” Barker, 407 U.S. at 531. One step below that exists USAO negligence, weighted moderately against the USAO. Id. The third tier concerns delay caused by events entirely outside of the USAO's control, such as a missing critical witness. Such an event does not warrant any weight against the USAO. See Id. And the fourth tier concerns portions of delay attributable to the defendant-a situation that, at best, renders the delay irrelevant, and, at worst, suggests the defendant has waived the right to a speedy trial. See Id. at 529. In evaluating the delay, the court must also consider the complexity of the crime at issue, for “the delay that can be tolerated for an ordinary street crime is considerably less than for a serious, complex conspiracy charge.” Id. at 531.

         While analyzing delay and culpability can be complex, the court eschews a lengthy discussion because its decision ultimately turns on one core conclusion. Judge Fawcett, testifying on behalf of the USAO, laid out a very thorough, persuasive, and-to Defendant's admission-credible explanation of how the delay in extraditing Okofor was primarily attributable to the US-Canadian extradition process itself. Cf. Zilich v. Reid, 36 F.3d 317, 321-22 (3d Cir. 1994) (“Face to face with living witnesses the original trier of the facts holds a position of advantage from which appellate judges are excluded. In doubtful cases the exercise of his or her power of observation often proves the most accurate method of ascertaining the truth.”) (internal quotations and brackets omitted).

         In United States v. Alexander, 817 F.3d 1178 (9th Cir. 2016), the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit considered a strikingly similar case. There, the USAO took approximately five years to extradite a man from Canada for conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. Id. at 1180-81. The USAO introduced similar testimony regarding the long process of obtaining extradition from Canada, explaining that an “extensive back-and-forth between the United States and Canada was ‘very typical.'” Id. at 1181. Like Defendant, Mr. Alexander was able to pick apart the process, pointing to places where the USAO dragged its feet in getting information back to Canada when it was requested. See Id. at 1182-83. The Ninth Circuit resolved the issue by allocating some delay to the defendant, some to Canada, and some to the USAO, leaving the USAO with only a few months of responsibility. See Id. The court thus found that, while some delay was attributable to the USAO, it was ultimately an insufficient amount to warrant a presumption of prejudice. See id.

         The court finds the reasoning in Alexander persuasive. Judge Fawcett's testimony here regarding the specific steps taken by the USAO in seeking Okoro's extradition leads the court to believe that only a few months of delay could be attributed to the United States's negligence. Specifically, the court finds the length of time between some requests for information and the USAO's response to be inexplicably long. But the majority of the delay seems attributable to the extradition process itself.[2] Because this inquiry concerns the fault of the United ...

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