California Man is Confined for 13-Years as Sexually Violent Predator While Prosecutors and Defense Display Negligence
Terrance Butler was convicted of multiple rapes in 1993. Prior to his release, the Alameda District Attorney’s office filed a petition to commit Mr. Butler indefinitely as a sexually violent predator under the Sexually Violent Predators (SVP) Act.
Mr. Butler was confined to a state hospital for 13 years awaiting trial on his SVP petition, during which time eight public defenders and six prosecutors cycled through his case, three trial dates were set and vacated, and more than 50 continuances were granted without a single objection raised by opposing counsel or a finding of good cause.
In re Butler – State of California
The question, in this case, was whether the protections provided under the 6th Amendment’s right to a speedy jury trial apply to a person sought to be committed indefinitely as a Sexually Violent Predator. The court held, that the 6th Amendment applies to such individuals. As the Court held, “because involuntary civil confinement involves a substantial deprivation of liberty, an alleged Sexually Violent Predator defendant is entitled under the due process clause to a trial at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner.”
In 1972, the Court decided Barker v. Wingo, which established the rights of defendants to have a speedy trial. Barker established a ‘balancing test, in which the conduct of both the prosecution and the defendant are weighed.’ Some of the factors relevant to whether a speedy trial violation has occurred include the ‘length of delay, the reason for the delay, the defendant’s assertion of the right, and the prejudice to the defendant.
In Butler’s case, the court had no difficulty in concluding that the nearly 13-year delay constituted a significant deprivation and Mr. Butler made repeated demands for a timely trial. Regarding prejudice, the court determined that Mr. Butler pleaded with the court and his counsel to set a trial as soon as possible, which is unquestionably an oppressive experience. This satisfied the court that prejudice existed. And finally, the reason for the delay was spread equally amongst the various players.
As the Court stated:
“The record here amply supports the finding that blame for the delay must be shared between a district attorney’s office that abdicated its responsibility for prosecuting this case, a public defender’s office that disregarded Butler’s repeated demands for trial, and a trial court that took no meaningful action to set deadlines or otherwise ensure that Butler’s right to a timely trial was protected.”
Competent representation would have prevented this type of delay. The right to a speedy jury trial is one of the most fundamental rights in our system and the court cannot deny an accused the right to a jury trial unless conducting one would be impossible. When a defendant asserts his right counsel must act with expedience, professionalism, and most importantly competence. Sadly, that failed to exist in this case.
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