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Right to Speedy Trial Not Triggered by Placement in Administrative Segregation

by David M. Reutter

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has held that a prisoner’s placement in administrative segregation while under investigation for a new crime does not trigger his right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment or the Speedy Trial Act.

Before the appellate court was the appeal of James Bailey-Snyder, who was found by guards at FCI-Schuylkill to be in possession of a seven-inch plastic shank. He was placed in the Special Handling Unit (SHU) while the FBI investigated. Ten months later, Bailey-Snyder was indicted on one count of possession of a prohibited object in prison.

He moved to dismiss the June 2016 indictment, arguing violations of his speedy trial rights. The Pennsylvania federal district court denied the motion. A jury found Bailey-Snyder guilty despite his argument that two guards had planted the shank in order to capitalize on the BOP’s “incentive programs for recovering contraband.” He was sentenced to 30 months in prison consecutive to his underlying conviction, and appealed.

On May 3, 2019, the Third Circuit found that Bailey-Snyder’s speedy trial argument was one of first impression. At issue was whether he was entitled to dismissal of the charge because the 10 months and 18 days that elapsed between his placement in the SHU and his indictment violated his right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment or Speedy Trial Act.

The Court of Appeals agreed with the district court that there was no violation. While a defendant has a right to a speedy trial, that “guarantee attaches at a defendant’s arrest or indictment, whichever comes first, because it does not ‘require the Government to discover, investigate, and accuse any person within any particular period of time.’”

The Court noted that the “Bureau of Prisons does not operate in a prosecutorial posture when it decides to place prisoners in administrative segregation.” Neither the U.S. Attorney nor the FBI is informed of such placements. For that reason, placements in SHU “have their own administrative review and appeal processes,” and do not constitute an arrest or public accusation for purposes of the Sixth Amendment or the Speedy Trial Act.

The Third Circuit also found no error had occurred at Bailey-Snyder’s trial with respect to comments made by the prosecutor or cumulative error. The district court’s judgment was affirmed. See: United States v. Bailey-Snyder, 923 F.3d 289 (3d Cir. 2019). 

Related legal case

United States v. Bailey-Snyder