Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

State v. Aguirre

January 26, 1996


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County.

Approved for Publication January 26, 1996.

Before Judges Michels, Baime, and Kimmelman. The opinion of the court was delivered by Baime, J.A.D.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Baime

The opinion of the court was delivered by BAIME, J.A.D.

At issue in this appeal is whether the Law Division was correct in dismissing the indictment against defendant because of a twenty month delay between the commission of the crime and the initiation of the prosecution. We hold that defendant failed to establish actual prejudice and an illegitimate reason for delay. We thus reverse the Law Division's order and reinstate the indictment.


After receiving information from a confidential informant, Detective Steven Mundorff of the State police arranged to meet defendant at the Champagne Porch Bar on January 11, 1993. Following extensive negotiations, defendant on the following day allegedly sold one ounce of cocaine to the officer for $1,000. No arrest was made. Instead, the detective made several unsuccessful attempts to engage defendant in larger transactions.

In February 1993, Detective Mundorff was transferred from the Narcotics Unit, and the investigation was assigned to other officers. Subsequent attempts to restore contact with defendant proved unavailing. These attempts included periodic criminal record checks to determine whether defendant was incarcerated in another jurisdiction. The State Police also requested, and was granted by the Postal Inspector, a "mail cover" to determine whether defendant resided at an address several officers believed to be his temporary home. In addition, the State Police requested and received from the municipal building inspector the names of all occupants of that address. Detective James Fish testified that he continued his efforts to locate defendant whenever he "had time." However, his handwritten notes contained only one specific reference relevant to defendant's case.

On August 9, 1994, a complaint and warrant were filed seeking defendant's arrest. Defendant's name was fed into the NCIC computer as "a wanted person" the next day. On September 14, 1994, the grand jury indicted defendant for second degree distribution of cocaine (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5a(1) and N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5b(2)), second degree possession of the same drug with intent to distribute (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5a(1) and N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5b(2)), and third degree possession of the same drug (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10a(1)). Defendant was arrested on February 24, 1995, while traveling on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Following an evidentiary hearing, the Law Division granted defendant's motion to dismiss the indictment. The court found that the bar in which the crime allegedly had occurred catered to a "transient" population and thus that the delay in initiating prosecution had precluded defendant from finding relevant witnesses and conducting an effective defense. The court also determined that the State failed to establish a legitimate reason for the delay. While noting that the internal efforts of the State Police to accumulate additional evidence against defendant justified a brief delay in bringing charges, the court concluded that the twenty month time period was oppressive and constituted a violation of due process.


The Due Process Clause imposes a limit on the extent to which prosecuting authorities may delay initiating a criminal prosecution after discovering an offense has been committed. United State v. Lovasco, 431 U.S. 783, 789, 97 S. Ct. 2044, 2048, 52 L. Ed. 2d 752, 758 (1977); United States v. Marion, 404 U.S. 307, 324, 92 S. Ct. 455, 465, 30 L. Ed. 2d 468, 481 (1971). The due process inquiry focuses on whether the delay "violates those 'fundamental conceptions of Justice which lie at the base of our civil and political institutions' and which define 'the community's sense of fair play and decency.'" United States v. Lovasco 431 U.S. at 790, 97 S. Ct. at 2049, 52 L. Ed. 2d at 759 (citations omitted). Unlike analysis under the Sixth Amendment's Speedy Trial Clause, which involves a four-factor balancing test and under which prejudice to the defense is presumed from an unusually long delay between indictment and trial, see Doggett v. United States, 505 U.S. 647, 112 S. Ct. 2686, 120 L. Ed. 2d 520 (1992); Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 92 S. Ct. 2182, 33 L. Ed. 2d 101 (1972); State v. Szima, 70 N.J. 196, 358 A.2d 773, cert.denied, 429 U.S. 896, 97 S. Ct. 259, 50 L. Ed. 2d 180 (1976), claims under the Due Process Clause arising from undue pre-indictment or pre-arrest delay are measured by a far more rigorous standard. In order to prevail, a defendant must demonstrate "both that (1) there was no legitimate reason for the delay and (2) [defendant] was prejudiced thereby." State v. Rodriguez, 112 N.J. Super. 513, 515, 271 A.2d 905 (App. Div. 1970); see also State v. Roundtree, 118 N.J. Super. 22, 28-29, 285 A.2d 564 (App. Div. 1971).

There are several reasons for the disparity in treatment between due process and speedy trial claims. First, the applicable statute of limitations constitutes the primary guaranty against instituting stale criminal charges. United States v. Marion, 404 U.S. at 322, 92 S. Ct. at 464, 30 L. Ed. 2d at 479. Such statutes represent legislative assessments of the relative interests of the prosecution and the defendant in administering and receiving Justice, and are enacted for the repose of society and of those who may have lost their means of defense. Ibid. Second, the prosecution often has perfectly legitimate reasons for delaying an indictment, such as to gather additional evidence against the accused or to broaden the investigation. United States v. Lovasco, 431 U.S. at 791, 97 S. Ct. at 2049-50, 52 L. Ed. 2d at 759-60. Prosecutors should not be discouraged from thoroughly investigating possible crimes, particularly those involving multiple participants or multiple transactions. Id. at 793, 97 S. Ct. at 2050, 52 L. Ed. 2d at 761. Third, insisting on immediate prosecution would pressure prosecutors into resolving doubtful cases in favor of early - and perhaps unwarranted - arrests or indictments. Ibid. We should not place prosecutors "in a constitutional vise" by encouraging hasty and ill-considered arrests and prosecutions. Note, Pre-Arrest Delay: Evolving Due Process Standards, 43 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 722, 728 (1968). Fourth, the core values underlying the Speedy Trial and Due Process guarantees overlap but are nevertheless quite different. Inordinate delay between arrest and trial or indictment and trial may impair a defendant's ability to present an effective defense. However, the major evils combatted by the Speedy Trial Clause exist quite apart from actual or possible prejudice to the ability of the accused to defend against pending criminal charges. Specifically, arrest or indictment is a public act that may severely interfere with the defendant's liberty, whether or not he is free on bail, and that may disrupt his employment, drain his financial resources, curtail his associations, create anxiety and subject him to public obloquy. See United States v. MacDonald, 456 U.S. 1, 8, 102 S. Ct. 1497, 1502, 71 L. Ed. 2d 696, 703 (1982). In contrast, the Due Process Clause in the context of pre-indictment or pre-arrest delay is confined to protecting the ability of the defendant to mount a defense against the prosecution's charges.

Against this backdrop, we first consider whether defendant established prejudice by reason of the twenty month delay in initiating prosecution. The law is well-settled that actual prejudice, not possible or presumed prejudice, is required to support a due process claim. United States v. Beszborn, 21 F.3d 62, 66 (5th Cir.), cert. denied sub nom. Westmoreland v. United States, U.S. , 115 S. Ct. 330, 130 L. Ed. 2d 288 (1994); United States v. Huntley, 976 F.2d 1287, 1290 (9th Cir. 1992); United States v. LeQuire, 943 F.2d 1554, 1560 (11th Cir. 1991), cert. denied, 505 U.S. 1223, 112 S. Ct. 3037, 120 L. Ed. 2d 906 (1992); United States v. Warren, 772 F.2d 827, 836 (11th Cir. 1985), cert. denied sub nom. Moore v. United States, 475 U.S. 1022, 106 S. Ct. 1214, 89 L. Ed. 2d 326 (1986); Stoner v. Graddick, 751 F.2d 1535, 1542 (11th Cir. 1985). As we pointed out earlier, "the protection from lost testimony "generally falls solely within the ambit of the statute of limitations." United States v. Moran, 759 F.2d 777, 782 (9th Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 1102, 106 S. Ct. 885, 88 L. Ed. 2d 920 (1986). In the context of a due process claim, the defendant must show "the delay caused actual and substantial prejudice'" endangering his right to a fair trial and "must present concrete evidence showing material harm." United States v. Anagnostou, 974 F.2d 939, 941-42 (7th Cir. 1992), cert. denied, U.S. , 113 S. Ct. 1943, 123 L. Ed. 2d 649 (1993). Therefore, "vague and conclusory allegations of prejudice resulting from the passage of time and the absence of witnesses are insufficient. United States v. Jenkins, 701 F.2d 850, 855 (10th Cir. 1983). When, as here, the claim of prejudice involves the unavailability of witnesses, the courts have consistently required the defendant to specify with particularity and to provide some evidence of how the witnesses' testimony would have benefitted the defense. See, e.g., United ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.