UNITED STATES V. LOVASCO, 431 U. S. 783 (1977)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Lovasco, 431 U.S. 783 (1977)

United States v. Lovasco

No. 75-1844

Argued March 21-22, 1977

Decided June 9, 1977

431 U.S. 783


More than 18 months after federal criminal offenses were alleged to have occurred, respondent was indicted for committing them. Beyond an investigative report made a month after the crimes were committed, little additional information was developed in the following 17 months. Claiming that the preindictment delay, during which material defense testimony had been lost, deprived him of due process, respondent moved to dismiss the indictment. The District Court, which found that the delay had not been explained or justified, and was unnecessary and prejudicial to respondent, granted the motion to dismiss. The Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that the delay, which it found was solely attributable to the Government's hope that other participants in the crime would be discovered, was unjustified.

Held: The Court of Appeals erred in affirming the District Court's dismissal of the indictment. Pp. 431 U. S. 788-797.

(a) Although the Speedy Trial Clause of the Sixth Amendment is applicable only after a person has been accused of a crime and statutes of limitations provide "the primary guarantee against bringing overly stale criminal charges,'" United States v. Marion, 404 U. S. 307, 404 U. S. 322, those statutes do not fully define a defendant's rights with respect to events antedating the indictment, and the Due Process Clause has a limited role to play in protecting against oppressive delay. Pp. 431 U. S. 788-789.

(b) While proof of prejudice makes a due process claim ripe for adjudication, it does not automatically validate such a claim, and the reasons for the delay must also be considered. Pp. 431 U. S. 789-790.

(c) To prosecute a defendant following good faith investigative delay, as apparently existed in this case, does not deprive him of due process even if his defense might have been somewhat prejudiced by the lapse of time. Prosecutors are under no duty to file charges as soon as probable cause exists but before they are satisfied that they will be able to establish a suspect's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Nor is there a constitutional requirement that charges must be filed after there is sufficient evidence to prove such guilt but before the investigation is complete. An immediate arrest or indictment might impair the prosecutors' ability to continue the investigation or obtain additional indictments,

Page 431 U. S. 784

would pressure prosecutors into resolving doubtful cases in favor of early (and possibly unwarranted) prosecution, and would preclude full consideration of the desirability of not prosecuting in particular cases. P. 431 U. S. 790-796.

532 F.2d 59, reversed.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and BRENNAN, STEWART, WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 431 U. S. 797.

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