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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. MacDonald, 456 U.S. 1 (1982)

United States v. MacDonald

No. 80-1582

Argued December 7, 1981

Decided March 31, 1982

456 U.S. 1


In May, 1970, the Army formally charged respondent, a captain in the Army Medical Corps, with the murders earlier that year of his pregnant wife and two children on a military reservation. Later that year, the military charges were dismissed and the respondent was honorably discharged on the basis of hardship, but, at the Justice Department's request, the Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) continued its investigation of the homicides. In June, 1972, the CID forwarded a report recommending further investigation, and the Justice Department, in 1974, ultimately presented the matter to a grand jury, which returned an indictment in January, 1975, charging respondent with the three murders. On an interlocutory appeal from the District Court's denial of respondent's motion to dismiss the indictment, the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the delay between the June, 1972, submission of the CID report to the Justice Department and the 1974 convening of the grand jury violated respondent's Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. After this Court's decision that respondent could not appeal the denial of his motion to dismiss on speedy trial grounds until after completion of the trial, 435 U. S. 850, respondent was tried and convicted. The Court of Appeals again held that the indictment violated respondent's right to a speedy trial, and dismissed the indictment.

Held: The time between dismissal of the military charges and the subsequent indictment on civilian charges may not be considered in determining whether the delay in bringing respondent to trial violated his right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment. Pp. 456 U. S. 10.

Page 456 U. S. 2

(a) The Speedy Trial Clause of the Sixth Amendment does not apply to the period before a defendant is indicted, arrested, or otherwise officially accused. Although delay prior to arrest or indictment may give rise to a due process claim under the Fifth Amendment or to a claim under any applicable statute of limitations, no Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial arises until charges are pending. Similarly, any undue delay after the Government, acting in good faith, formally dismisses charges must be scrutinized under the Due Process Clause, not the Speedy Trial Clause. Once charges are dismissed, the speedy trial guarantee -- which is designed primarily to minimize the possibility of lengthy incarceration prior to trial, to reduce the lesser, but nevertheless substantial, impairment of liberty imposed on an accused while released on bail, and to shorten the disruption of life caused by arrest and the presence of unresolved criminal charges -- is no longer applicable. Following dismissal of charges, any restraint on liberty, disruption of employment, strain on financial resources, and exposure to public obloquy, stress and anxiety is no greater than it is upon anyone openly subject to a criminal investigation. Pp. 456 U. S. 9.

(b) The Court of Appeals erred in holding, in essence, that criminal charges were pending against respondent during the entire period between his military arrest and his later indictment on civilian charges. Although respondent was subjected to stress and other adverse consequences flowing from the initial military charges and the continuing investigation after they were dismissed, he was not under arrest, not in custody, and not subject to any "criminal prosecution" until the civilian indictment was returned. He was legally and constitutionally in the same posture as though no charges had been made; he was free to go about his affairs, to practice his profession, and to continue with his life. Pp. 456 U. S. 10.

632 F.2d 258 and 635 F.2d 1115, reversed and remanded.

BURGER, C.J.,delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 456 U. S. 11. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 456 U. S. 12.

Page 456 U. S. 3

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