Sunday, November 3, 2013

United States v. Lovasco case brief

United States v. Lovasco case brief summary
431 U.S. 783 (1977)

The Government appealed a judgment from the United States Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit, which affirmed the district court's order that dismissed an indictment against defendant for the Government's delay in obtaining the indictment, in violation of the U.S. Constitutional amends. VI, XIV.


  • Defendant was charged in an indictment with crimes committed more than 18 months before the indictment was filed. 
  • The Defendant was suspected of possessing stolen guns and selling guns without a license between July 25 and August 31, 1973. 
  • One month later, the Postal Inspector issued a report which stated that there was strong evidence against Lovasco, but that investigators had not been able to establish how Lovasco got the guns. 
  • On March 6, 1975, Lovasco was indicted for the crime. 
  • Lovasco moved to dismiss on the grounds that the undue delay had impaired his ability to defend himself. 
  • Lovasco said two material witnesses died before the indictment was issued. 
  • The district court dismissed the indictment, and the court of appeals affirmed.

  • Holding that even a lengthy pre-indictment delay that caused some prejudice did not violate a defendant's U.S. Constitutional amendment VI and XIV rights to a speedy trial and due process, the Supreme Court reversed. 
  • The Court held that a pre-indictment delay was wholly irrelevant for Amendment VI purposes because the constitutional right to a speedy trial attached only after defendant was accused by indictment or information, or was actually restrained by arrest and detention to answer for a criminal charge. 
  • The Court also held that Amendment XIV had a limited role to play in protecting against oppressive delay. 
  • The Court held that the death of two potential witnesses during the delay was not sufficient prejudice because defendant had not shown how their testimony would have aided the defense. 
  • The Court concluded that it could not discern how the investigatory delay violated those fundamental conceptions of justice that lay at the base of the American civil and political institutions and that defined the community's sense of fair play and decency.


The Court reversed the judgment for defendant because his right to a speedy trial was irrelevant to a pre-indictment delay, and the government's delay, which was not occasioned by a desire to gain a tactical advantage over defendant, did not violate fundamental conceptions of justice that defined the communal sense of fair play, even if defendant was prejudiced "somewhat" by the death of two potential witnesses.

Recommended Supplements for Criminal Procedure Criminal Procedure: Examples & Explanations, Sixth Edition
Emanuel Law Outline: Criminal Procedure

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