Judge rules delays don't violate right to fast trial

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

ST. LOUIS -- A St. Louis judge has ruled that a man's constitutional rights to a speedy trial were not violated by delays in the judicial system.

Tracy McKee, 42, was released on bond last week, 19 months after his arrest on one felony and five misdemeanor charges for allegedly tampering with motor vehicles.

McKee had filed five court motions asking for a speedy trial since September 2006 and eventually attracted the attention of the Missouri Supreme Court, which last month gave Circuit Judge John Riley 30 days to dismiss the case or take it to trial.

Riley said Monday he will not dismiss the case.

The Supreme Court said that it did not have enough information to determine if McKee's rights had been violated but said the delay was too long. Missouri courts have said delays longer than eight months are "presumptively prejudicial" to a defendant's ability to mount a defense.

Riley wrote in his ruling that beyond the eight-month mark, a judge must look at three factors: the "prevention of oppressive pretrial imprisonment," "minimization of the defendant's anxiety and concern" and the prejudice issue.

He called the delay "unfortunate" but said it had not harmed McKee's ability to mount a defense. Riley said the delay was due to the number of cases that were in line ahead of McKee's.

The judge also cited two occasions when McKee agreed to plead guilty then backed out.

Maleaner Harvey, a public defender representing McKee, had blamed an "overcrowded and overburdened court system," exacerbated by a new scheduling system the judges have now voted to scrap.

Lyn Ruess, one of McKee's former public defenders, suggested in court last week that hundreds of defendants in St. Louis were in similar situations.

McKee's case is scheduled for trial Jan. 28.

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