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United States v. Lewis

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

October 4, 2013

UNITED STATES of America, Appellee,
Michael LEWIS, Defendant, Appellant.

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Jeffrey M. Brandt, with whom Robinson & Brandt, P.S.C., was on brief, for appellant.

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René e M. Bunker, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Thomas E. Delahanty II, United States Attorney, was on brief, for appellee.

Before TORRUELLA, STAHL, and THOMPSON, Circuit Judges.

THOMPSON, Circuit Judge.

This case requires us to determine whether a prisoner against whom a federal detainer has been lodged and who is erroneously detained by State authorities following the dismissal of State criminal charges is in federal custody for purposes of the Speedy Trial Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3161(b). We conclude that the appellant did not enter federal custody until October 3, 2011, the date on which he was arrested by United States Marshals and brought before a federal judge. As such, his October 26, 2011, indictment occurred within thirty days of his arrest on federal charges and, therefore, did not violate the Speedy Trial Act. We also reject the appellant's claim that the district court erred by failing to impose any sanctions against the federal government as a result of its purported failure to notify him that it had lodged a federal detainer against him.


The facts of this matter are relatively straightforward. The parties stipulated to many of them and neither party challenges any of the additional facts found by the district court. On August 6, 2011, deputies of the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office arrested Michael Lewis (" appellant" ) at a gravel pit in Standish, Maine.[1] It appears that at the time of his arrest the appellant had a firearm on him, and that he had been convicted of at least one felony in the past. Following his arrest, the State of Maine (" State" ) charged appellant with the following criminal counts: Possession of a Firearm by a Felon in violation of 15 M.R.S.A. § 393(1)(A-1); Theft by Receiving Stolen Property in violation of 17-A M.R.S.A. § 359(1)(B)(2); and Carrying a Concealed Weapon in violation of 25 M.R.S.A. § 2001-A(1)(B). The appellant was granted but did not post bail for reasons not appearing in the record. Thus, he remained in the State's custody at the Cumberland County Jail.

During the afternoon of Friday, August 26, 2011, the United States (" government" ) filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Maine charging the appellant with one count of violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. An arrest warrant on the federal charges was issued that same day. Later that afternoon the government prosecutor contacted the State prosecutor to advise him that a federal complaint had been filed against the appellant. The State prosecutor responded that he would " promptly dismiss the related state charges." The government prosecutor also told the appellant's State-appointed defense counsel that a complaint against his client had been filed in federal court. The record does not reveal whether the government also informed defense counsel that it had been advised the State intended to dismiss its charges " promptly."

The government lodged a federal detainer at the Cumberland County Jail at 9:34 a.m. on the next business day, Monday, August 29, 2011.[2] Later that same day,

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the State voluntarily dismissed all its charges against the appellant. whet occurred next (or, more accurately, failed to occur) sets the stage for this appeal.

The parties stipulated as to the procedures generally followed by the Cumberland County Jail when a federal detainer is lodged against one of its inmates. Once the Jail is advised that the State charges have been dismissed, it contacts the United States Marshals Service to let them know the State charges are no longer pending.[3] The Marshals Service in turn notifies both the appropriate United States District Court and the United States Attorney's Office. Thus, had the normal and customary practice been adhered to in this instance, the Jail should have received notice of the dismissal of State charges on or soon after August 29 and passed this information along to the United States Marshals so the appellant could be placed into federal custody.

There is no question that the customary procedures broke down in this case, as the appellant languished in the Cumberland County Jail for the next month. During this time, the Jail never notified the United States Marshals Service that the State charges had been dismissed. As the Marshals were not informed of the dismissal, they did not notify the U.S. Attorney's Office that the State charges had been dismissed and that the appellant should be taken into federal custody. Thus, the appellant remained incarcerated by the State despite the fact it had dismissed all charges against him.

The record does not provide any hint as to how long this state of affairs would have persisted if not for the intervention of an outside actor. Finally, on September 26, 2011, the appellant's girlfriend phoned the U.S. Attorney's Office, stated that all State charges had been dismissed, and inquired as to why the appellant was still sitting in the Cumberland County Jail.[4] It appears this phone call prompted action on the appellant's case, as the government prosecutor assigned to the case telephoned the Jail that same day. Officials at the Jail told her the appellant was still being held on the State charges. During this conversation the Jail specifically informed the government prosecutor it was not holding the appellant as a result of the federal detainer.

Also on September 26, the government prosecutor contacted the State prosecutor via electronic mail to inquire as to the status of the State charges. The State's attorney reported that the State charges were dismissed on August 29, 2011, and in reply the government's prosecutor stated the Jail was still holding the appellant on the State charges. From the tenor of the email messages introduced as exhibits at the district court, it certainly appears the State's attorneys were completely unaware that the appellant was still in State custody. In further email correspondence on Tuesday, September 27, 2011, the State prosecutor informed the government's prosecutor that he would contact the State court to verify it had received the State's dismissal. He also promised to ask the State court to notify the Jail of the dropped charges.

While the record shows that there was some additional email correspondence between

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the State and government attorneys regarding the status of the case over the next several days, no official action was taken and the appellant remained in State custody for the next week. Finally, on October 3, 2011, the State prosecutor called the State court to have a copy of the dismissal faxed to the Jail. The State's attorney then confirmed with an officer at the Cumberland County Jail that the Jail had in fact received notification of the dismissal, and he advised the government prosecutor of these developments through email.

Apparently, once the Jail finally received notice of the dismissal on October 3, it promptly contacted the United States Marshals in accordance with its usual protocol. Thereafter the government acted swiftly, as on the same day it arrested the appellant on the federal warrant and brought him before a federal judge for his initial appearance.[5] A federal grand jury returned a one-count indictment on October 26, 2011, charging the appellant with violating 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). The appellant remained in federal custody between October 3 and October 26, as he waived his right to contest the government's motion to detain him pending trial.

The appellant subsequently filed a motion to dismiss the federal indictment for violation of the Speedy Trial Act and for an alleged violation of his right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The appellant argued that even though he was being held at a State facility from August 6 to October 3, the dismissal of all State charges and the lodging of the federal detainer on August 29, 2011, was the functional equivalent of an arrest by federal authorities. The appellant took the position that the indictment should be dismissed because it was not issued within thirty days from the date federal custody began, as the Act requires.

The district court held a hearing and denied the appellant's motion on January 25, 2012. Two days later, and with the government's consent, the appellant entered a conditional guilty plea whereby he reserved his right to appeal the denial of his motion to dismiss. The district court approved and entered the conditional ...

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