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U.S. v. Dent

July 06, 1998


Before: Sloviter, Nygaard, and Kravitch,* Circuit Judges. * Honorable Phyllis A. Kravitch, Senior Circuit Judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, sitting by designation.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nygaard, Circuit Judge.


Argued on October 28, 1997

(Filed July 6, 1998)


Michael Dent appeals his conviction for conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(b), alleging that both his conviction and sentence rest on legally insufficient evidence. Dent also argues that the prosecution's delay in bringing his case to trial violated the Sixth Amendment and the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act, and that the district court should have permitted him to review the personnel file of his arresting officer. We will affirm.


Dent's case has a long and dramatic history, which need be recounted only briefly for purposes of this appeal. On January 19, 1992, Philadelphia police officers Stephen Cassidy and Dathon Enoch pursued a suspected drug dealer into a local residence. Inside they found Dent and two other men seated at a table cluttered with cocaine base and drug paraphernalia. The officers arrested Dent and his companions, as well as the suspected drug dealer who led them to the house. The federal prosecutor took over Dent's case from the Philadelphia authorities, but Dent jumped bond and fled the jurisdiction before federal agents could arrest him. Because of Dent's fugitive status, delay on the government's part and Dent's intervening incarceration in New York state for unrelated crimes, he was not tried on federal narcotics charges until February 1997, although a grand jury indicted him on April 22, 1992. A jury convicted Dent of one count of conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine, but acquitted him of a related count for possession of a controlled substance. As punishment, he now faces 92 months' imprisonment to be followed by a five-year period of supervised release.

Dent's appeal raises numerous challenges to his conviction and sentence. First, he alleges that the government's delay in bringing his case to trial violated the Sixth Amendment's speedy trial provision and the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act ("IAD"), 18 U.S.C. app. § 2. Second, he claims that Officer Cassidy's testimony was insufficient to prove his participation in a conspiracy to distribute crack because the officer could not recall seeing Dent personally handle any drugs or drug paraphernalia. Next, Dent alleges that the district court should not have admitted the cocaine base at trial, since the government failed to establish a reliable chain of custody for the exhibit. He further argues that the government did not demonstrate that the drugs were crack rather than another form of cocaine base, and that consequently he may not be sentenced under U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual ("U.S.S.G.") § 2D1.1, which imposes a far harsher penalty for crack offenses than is applied to crimes involving equal quantities of cocaine in other forms. Dent also insists that the district court should have permitted him to review Cassidy's personnel file, and that had it done so, he could have cast doubt on the officer's credibility as a witness. Finally, Dent attacks his sentence on the ground that the government used an unreliable method to determine the amount of crack involved in his crime. We will consider each of these arguments in turn.

The district court had jurisdiction under 18 U.S.C. § 3231. We have appellate jurisdiction over the district court's order under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 and over the final sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 3742(a).


We consider first Dent's contention that a prejudicial pre-trial delay violated both his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial and the IAD. We review the district court's legal conclusions de novo, but will reverse factual findings only if they are clearly erroneous. See United States v. Bierley, 922 F.2d 1061, 1064 (3d Cir. 1990).


The Sixth Amendment guarantees that "[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial." U.S. Const. amend. VI. However, "[u]ntil there is some delay which is presumptively prejudicial, there is no necessity for inquiry into the other factors" relevant to whether a pre-trial delay prejudiced the defendant. Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 530 (1972). Here, the approximately five-year delay between Dent's arrest and his trial is sufficiently lengthy to trigger full inquiry into the possibility that Dent suffered prejudice as a result. See Doggett v. United States, 505 U.S. 647, 651 n.1, 658 (1992) (observing that most courts find a postaccusation delay "presumptively prejudicial" at least as it approaches one year); Hakeem v. Beyer, 990 F.2d 750, 760 (3d Cir. 1993) (fourteen and one-half month delay warrants full inquiry into possible prejudice resulting from postponement of trial).

Once the defendant identifies a presumptively prejudicial delay in bringing his case to trial, determining whether that delay violated the Sixth Amendment requires a highly fact-specific analysis that balances all the relevant circumstances. In conducting this balancing test, the Supreme Court has emphasized four factors: (1) the length of the delay, (2) the reasons for delay, (3) whether, in due course, the defendant asserted his right to a speedy trial and (4) the actual prejudice the defendant suffered as a result. See Barker, 407 U.S. at 530. Although we begin our analysis with these four factors, we are mindful that none is "either a necessary or sufficient condition to the finding of a deprivation of the right of speedy trial," and that we must consider them together "with such other circumstances as may be relevant." Id.

Although the first of the Barker factors, the length of the delay, weighs somewhat in Dent's favor, it is not compelling. Certainly the gap between Dent's January 19, 1992 arrest and his trial on February 3 and 4, 1997 is substantial. However, the seriousness of a postaccusation delay varies depending on the circumstances, and a waiting period during which the defendant is not detained presents fewer concerns than a wait accompanied by pretrial incarceration. See id. at 533 (noting serious societal disadvantages caused by pretrial incarceration). Dent did not endure any significant pretrial detention associated with the conviction from which he appeals. We therefore do not find the length of the pretrial delay in his case to be intolerable.

More important, Dent's claim stumbles on the second Barker factor, which requires us to consider whether Dent or the government caused the delay. Although both parties contributed to the post-indictment delay, it is clear that Dent bears the bulk of responsibility in this regard. After his arrest, Dent jumped bond and remained a fugitive for more than two years. He was listed as a wanted person on April 30, 1992 after failing to appear at a state court hearing, and, despite diligent efforts, federal agents could not locate him until August 1994. Dent argues that he is not to blame for this part of the delay, because federal agents had not yet arrested him when he fled, and thus he did not know of the federal indictment. This argument is specious. Dent may not have known that his case had been adopted by federal prosecutors, but he certainly knew that he had been arrested by Philadelphia police and released on bond, and that proceedings had commenced against him in state court. As a result, Dent was fully aware of his fugitive status when he fled to New York sometime in early 1992.

Inexplicably, after learning that Dent was incarcerated in New York, the government waited fourteen months before taking further steps to bring him to Justice. Beginning October 17, 1995, however, the prosecution consistently sought to have Dent tried in Pennsylvania. On that date, prosecutors wrote to the U.S. Marshal Service requesting that Dent's arrest warrant be lodged as a detainer with the correctional facility where Dent purportedly was incarcerated, only to learn that no inmate named Michael Dent was then in residence at that institution. This confusion was not resolved until April 1996, when the government discovered that Dent was being held at a different New York correctional institution under his real name, Isaac Dennis. On April 26, 1996, the government again wrote to the U.S. Marshal Service requesting that Dent's outstanding federal arrest warrant be lodged as a detainer, this time with the correct New York facility.

Thus, Dent is wholly responsible for the first 26 months of the pre-trial delay, and the government is to blame for only 14 months of that delay. Although an additional 13 months passed before Dent's trial, the government cannot be faulted for this lag. By all accounts, the United States Attorney's office sedulously attempted to locate Dent in the New York penal system after October 17, 1995. Indeed, it was ...

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