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Eighth Circuit: No Speedy Trial Rights for Prisoner Placed in Administrative Segregation

by Christopher Zoukis

The Eighth Circuit ruled on September 15, 2016, in a per curiam opinion, that the Sixth Amendment’s right to a speedy trial is essentially not applicable to prisoners held in administrative segregation pending criminal charges.

Rashad A. Wearing was incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution in Forrest City, Arkansas in April 2013 when he was found in possession of a shank. He was immediately placed in administrative segregation, and around a year later was charged with one count of being an inmate in possession of a prohibited object in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1791(a)(2) and (d)(1)(B).

Wearing challenged the indictment for violating his right to a speedy trial under the Speedy Trial Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 3161-3174. Specifically, he argued federal prosecutors had failed to indict him within 30 days of his “arrest” – when he was placed in administrative segregation – as required by 18 U.S.C. § 3161(b).

On appeal, the Eighth Circuit determined that Wearing’s placement in administrative segregation immediately after being caught with a shank was not an arrest for purposes of his speedy trial rights. The Court of Appeals reached that counterintuitive conclusion by defining the term “arrest” as when “the person is charged with an offense.” Because Wearing had not been charged with possession of the shank until almost a year later, the Court found his placement in administrative segregation at the time of the incident “was not an arrest for purposes of § 3161(b).”

Of course that reasoning would be highly suspect if applied to a non-prisoner; for example, if someone was arrested for illegal possession of a weapon and held in jail for a year before being charged.

Wearing also challenged the 13-month delay between his placement in ad seg and his first trial date as violative of his speedy trial rights. The appellate court explained that “the Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial attaches at the time of arrest or indictment, whichever comes first, and continues until the trial commences.” Again concluding that placement in ad seg was not an arrest, the Court of Appeals found that Wearing’s speedy trial rights did not attach until he was indicted approximately one year after being placed in segregation.

The Court also rejected Wearing’s argument that his indictment was defective because it did not specify the alleged offense occurred in a federal prison – only that it involved “an inmate of a prison.” The appellate court held that “the indictment provides notice of the date the offense occurred, notifies Wearing that the offense occurred in a prison, and specified the prohibited object Wearing was accused of possessing,” and thus was sufficient.

Eighth Circuit Judge Jane L. Kelly, one of the three jurists who ruled on Wearing’s appeal, wrote a brief concurrence in which she indicated the question of whether Wearing had been “arrested” when he was placed in administrative segregation had not been fully briefed on appeal, and thus was not the basis of her decision. See: United States v. Wearing, 837 F.3d 905 (8th Cir. 2016). 

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Related legal case

United States v. Wearing