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Government of Virgin Islands v. Bryan

filed : May 14, 1987.

GOVERNMENT OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS, APPELLANT
v.
DESMOND BRYAN



On Appeal from the District Court of the Virgin Islands (St. Thomas), D.C. Criminal No. 85-114.

Author: Sloviter

Opinion OF THE COURT

Before: SLOVITER, STAPLETON and ROSENN, Circuit Judges.

SLOVITER, Circuit Judge.

I.

The district court of the Virgin Islands dismissed with prejudice an information charging defendant Desmond Bryan with grand larceny in violation of 14 V.I.C. 1083(1) and possession of stolen property in violation of 14 V.I.C. 2101(a). The court found that the information was filed more than 30 days after Bryan's arrest and held that it was untimely under the provision of the Speedy Trial Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3161(b), which requires that an information be filed within thirty days of arrest.

The United States Attorney argued that the Speedy Trial Act does not apply to territorial offenses, and that in any event dismissal should be without prejudice because the short additional time taken in filing the information (which was filed 35 days after Bryan's arrest on these charges) was to permit the government to ascertain whether the value of the jeep seat allegedly stolen by Bryan exceeded $100, an element of the crimes charged. In rejecting the prosecution's argument that the Speedy Trial Act was inapplicable to territorial offenses prosecuted in the district court, the district court relied upon the fact that the Administrative Office of the United States Courts and this court had acted as if the Speedy Trial Act applied to territorial offenses by purchasing a Speedy Trial Reporter for the district court. App. at 20. The court also stated that "any Act passed by the Legislature of the Virgin Islands is an Act of Congress." App. at 20. Finally, the court suggested that it was within the supervisory power of the circuit court to apply the provisions of the Speedy Trial Act to local offenses. App. at 21. The district court stated that it would dismiss the indictment with prejudice in the hope that the government would appeal to this court to resolve the question. App. at 20.

Accordingly, before us are the following questions: (1) Does the Speedy Trial Act apply of its own force to territorial offenses prosecuted in the district court of the Virgin Islands? (2) If not, does the District Court of the Virgin Islands have the authority to make the provisions of the Speedy Trial Act applicable to territorial offenses prosecuted in that court by virtue of a Speedy Trial Plan approved by the Judicial Council of the Third Circuit? (3) If there is such authority, does the Speedy Trial Plan adopted do so? and (4) If so, did the district court abuse its discretion by dismissing the information against Bryan with prejudice?

II.

The provisions of the Speedy Trial Act limiting the time for bringing an indictment or information, 18 U.S.C. § 3161(b), and providing for dismissal for failure to do so within the time limit, 18 U.S.C. § 3162(a)(1), apply only when the defendant is charged with an "offense". The statute defines an "offense", in relevant part, as "any Federal criminal offense which is in violation of any Act of Congress and is triable by any court established by Act of Congress." 18 U.S.C. § 3172(2). The latter part of the definition is met here because the crimes with which Bryan was charged are triable in the District Court of the Virgin Islands, which is a "court established by Act of Congress."*fn1 See 48 U.S.C. § 1611(a). However, the crimes for which Bryan was charged were established by an Act of the Legislature of the Virgin Islands, not an Act of Congress.

The district court's suggestion that an Act passed by the Legislature of the Virgin Islands is an Act of Congress is contrary to this court's precedent. Under the Revised Organic Act, the "legislative power and authority of the Virgin Islands shall be vested in . . . the 'Legislature of the Virgin Islands'," 48 U.S.C. § 1571(a), and "shall extend to all rightful subjects of legislation not inconsistent with [the Revised Organic Act] or the laws of the United States made applicable to the Virgin Islands." 48 U.S.C. § 1574(a).

In Harris v. Boreham, 233 F.2d 110 (3d Cir. 1956), Judge Maris, writing for the court, stated that, "the aim of Congress [in enacting the then applicable Organic Act] is to give the territory full power of local self-determination. The local laws enacted under the legislative power granted by Congress are accordingly territorial laws, not laws of the United States." Id. at 113. Furthermore, the court expressly rejected the position "that local laws continued in force in a territory by virtue of a provision of its organic act are laws of the United States." Id. at 113 n.4.

With the passage of the Revised Organic Act, Congress intended to grant "a greater degree of autonomy, economic as well as political, to the people of the Virgin Islands." Virgo Corp. v. Paiewonsky, 384 F.2d 569, 576 (3d Cir. 1967), cert. denied, 390 U.S. 1041, 88 S. Ct. 1634, 20 L. Ed. 2d 303 (1968) (quoting S. Rep. No. 1271, 83d Cong., 2d Sess. 2, reprinted in 1954 U.S. Code Cong. & Admin. News, 2585, 2586). As we stated in In re Estate of Hooper, 359 F.2d 569, 578 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 385 U.S. 903, 87 S. Ct. 206, 17 L. Ed. 2d 133 (1966),

The Territory of the Virgin Islands is a body politic. While not sovereign, in the true sense of that term, the Revised Organic Act has conferred upon it attributes of autonomy similar to those of a sovereign government or a state.

It follows that territorial crimes established by the Legislative of the Virgin Islands are not criminal offenses in violation of an Act of Congress and hence are not "offenses" within the meaning of the Speedy Trial Act. Cf. Government of the Virgin Islands v. Ortiz, 427 F.2d 1043, 1047 (3d Cir. 1970) (territorial crimes are not covered by identical definition of "offense" in Bail Reform Act of 1966). Therefore that Act does not apply of its own force to ...


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