NJ Supreme Court Clarifies IAD’s Speedy Trial Rights

NJ Supreme Court Clarifies IAD’s Speedy Trial Rights

In State v. Rami A. Amer (A-9-22/086950) (Decided July 3, 2023), the Supreme Court of New Jersey clarified defendants’ speedy trial rights under the Interstate Agreement on Detainers (IAD), an interstate compact addressing the transfer of a prisoner from the jurisdiction in which he is incarcerated to another jurisdiction in which he faces criminal charges. It held that pretrial defense motions render a defendant “unable to stand trial” and, thus, toll the IAD’s 180-day trial deadline. It further found that defendants are “brought to trial” when jury selection begins.

Facts of State v. Amer

Defendant Rami A. Amer (Defendants) was arrested in New Jersey in November 2016 in connection with seventeen burglaries. He was arrested the next month in Pennsylvania in connection with a series of burglaries committed in that state. In October 2017, Defendant pled guilty to the charges pending against him in Pennsylvania and was incarcerated there. On February 23, 2018, the State received Defendant’s notice under the IAD, in which he requested the prompt disposition of his New Jersey charges. Defendant was transported from Pennsylvania to New Jersey the same day.

On May 21, 2018, Defendant filed two motions to suppress, which were denied 53 days later, on July 13. During jury selection on July 24, 2018, the trial judge informed counsel that after July 31, the trial would resume on September 13, 2018. Neither party objected to that proposed schedule, but when jury selection resumed the next day, defense counsel stated that the IAD required the trial to begin on August 22, 2018, and argued that Defendant’s rights under the IAD would be violated if, for example, the court began a trial but “put it off [for] six months.”

When a jurisdiction in which the prisoner is subject to an “untried indictment, information or complaint” imposes a detainer against him, and the prisoner gives notice that he requests a transfer to that jurisdiction for a final disposition of his charges there, he must be “brought to trial within 180 days” of the receiving jurisdiction’s receipt of that notice.

That 180-day deadline for trial, however, may be extended in accordance with the compact’s provisions. Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:159A-6(a), that time period “shall be tolled whenever and for as long as the prisoner is unable to stand trial, as determined by the court having jurisdiction of the matter.” In addition, the court with jurisdiction over the prisoner “may grant any necessary or reasonable continuance” for good cause, subject to conditions prescribed by the IAD.

The trial court ultimately entered an order stating that trial had commenced for IAD purposes on July 24, 2018, when jury selection began, and that the IAD’s 180-day time period had been tolled between the filing and the denial of Defendant’s motions.

In an August 28, 2018 letter, Defendant contended that the trial court had violated his rights under the IAD to a trial by August 22, 2018. Treating Defendant’s letter as a motion to dismiss his indictment, the trial court denied the motion. In October 2018, the jury convicted Defendant on four counts. Defendant appealed, challenging in relevant part the ruling that his IAD rights were not violated.

The Appellate Division affirmed on that issue, holding that defense counsel waived Defendant’s right to be brought to trial within 180 days of his notice pursuant

to the IAD. It further concluded that Defendant was “unable to stand trial” for purposes of N.J.S.A. 2A:159A-6(a) while his pretrial motions were pending; that N.J.S.A. 2A:159A-3(a)’s 180-day period for the commencement of trial was tolled during that period; and that the trial court had properly granted a continuance extending the deadline.

NJ Supreme Court’s Decision in State v. Amer

The New Jersey Supreme Court held that Defendant’s speedy trial rights under the IAD were not violated. It did not concur with the Appellate Division that defense counsel waived Defendant’s rights under the IAD. However, it did agree that the IAD’s 180-day time period was tolled during the pendency of Defendant’s pretrial motions, and that Defendant was “brought to trial” when jury selection began prior to the deadline set by N.J.S.A. 2A:159A-3(a).

The New Jersey Supreme Court first found that Defendant’s counsel did not waive Defendant’s rights under the IAD. In support, it noted that it was the trial judge, not defense counsel, who expressed a preference for delaying the State’s presentation until September. As further emphasized by the court, defense counsel conceded only that the trial could not be completed on July 31, 2018, and he consistently asserted Defendant’s rights during trial.

The New Jersey Supreme Court next turned to whether the 180-day period prescribed by the IAD was tolled while Defendant’s motions to suppress were pending, agreeing with the Appellate Division that it was tolled. In reaching its decision, the court cited that a large majority of federal courts of appeals that have considered whether pretrial defense motions render a defendant “unable to stand trial” have answered that question in the affirmative, as have the courts of several sister states.

The New Jersey Supreme Court, however, made it clear that it was not construing N.J.S.A. 2A:159A-6(a) to indefinitely toll the IAD’s speedy trial provisions if a defendant subject to the interstate compact files a pretrial motion. As the court explained:

[A] defendant who has filed a pretrial motion in an IAD case should be considered “unable to stand trial” under N.J.S.A. 2A:159A-6(a) during the pendency of a pretrial motion, with an important caveat: N.J.S.A. 2A:159A-3(a)’s 180-day trial deadline should not be tolled during any portion of the period in which the defendant’s motion was pending that would not be considered excludable time for speedy trial purposes under Rule 3:25-4(i)(3). We impose that limitation to ensure that defendants in cases governed by the IAD will not be subjected to inordinate trial delays when they file motions with the trial court.

Finally, the New Jersey Supreme Court agreed with its sister courts in two other states that theDefendant was “brought to trial” when jury selection began. Accordingly, he was brought to trial well in advance of the deadline set by N.J.S.A. 2A:159A-3(a), as tolled pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:159A-6(a).

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