Arrest For DUI And Release On Notice To Appear Does Not Constitute Restraint For Right To Speedy Trial

People v. Buchanan (Cal. Ct. App., Nov. 8, 2022, No. H049838) 2022 WL 16828900, at *1

Summary: The Sixth Amendment guarantees an accused in a criminal prosecution the right to a speedy trial. The issue is whether a person cited and released on a written promise to appear under Penal Code section 853.61 is “accused” for Sixth Amendment purposes in the interval between the promised appearance date and the state’s later filing of a misdemeanor complaint. The citation is an accusation otherwise sufficient to initiate Sixth Amendment protection against delay, but the District Attorney’s election not to file formal charges by the appearance date ceased any legal restraint upon the accused and had the same effect, for constitutional speedy trial purposes, as a dismissal of charges.

The Arrests and the Filing of the Complaint

Buchanan was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI) in violation of Vehicle Code section 23152 and released with a Judicial Council of California Form TR-130 Notice to Appear. Buchanan signed a notice to appear agreeing to appear in court on a specified date and time more than 25 days later.

The court date passed without the filing of charges, but the District Attorney ultimately filed charges just as the one-year statute of limitations for misdemeanor DUIs was about to expire.

Buchanan was arraigned about 90 days after the District Attorney filed charges, and nearly 15 months after arrest.

Dismissal and Appeal

Following arraignment, Buchanan moved to dismiss the complaint against, claiming a violation of speedy trial rights. The trial court determined that (1) buchanan was and remained “accused” within the meaning of the Sixth Amendment speedy trial guarantee from the day law enforcement arrested and released him on notices to appear; (2) the lapse of more than one year from the issuance of the notice to appear was presumptively prejudicial under Barker v. Wingo (1972) 407 U.S. 514, 92 S.Ct. 2182, 33 L.Ed.2d 101; and (3) although the delay of nearly a year from arrest to the filing of the complaints was justified by a delay in analyzing blood specimens collected upon arrest; (4) the further delay between the filing of the complaint and arraignment was unjustified. The trial court therefore dismissed the  action.

The superior court’s appellate department reversed, in split decisions, but certified the cases for transfer to the Court of Appeal.

Review of trial court decision on speedy trial motion

A trial court’s grant or denial of a speedy trial motion is reviewed for abuse of discretion (People v. Vila (1984) 162 Cal.App.3d 76, 85; People v. Cowan (2010) 50 Cal.4th 401), but “the deference [this standard] calls for varies according to the aspect of a trial court’s ruling under review.” (Haraguchi v. Superior Court (2008) 43 Cal.4th 706, 711.) A trial court’s conclusions of law are reviewed de novo.  The  trial court’s decision to grant the speedy trial motions hinged on its threshold determination that Buchanan was entitled to a presumption of prejudice because the Sixth Amendment speedy trial time period ran uninterrupted from the date of citation.

Because Buchanan ceased to be under continuing restraint once the date originally noticed for their appearance passed without formal charge, his Sixth Amendment speedy trial right did not reattach until the District Attorney filed the operative charging document.

Sixth Amendment Speedy Trial Right

“On its face, the protection of the [Sixth] Amendment is activated only when a criminal prosecution has begun and extends only to those persons who have been ‘accused’ in the course of that prosecution.” (U.S. v. Marion (1971) 404 U.S. 307 (Marion).) “ ‘The Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial is … not primarily intended to prevent prejudice to the defense caused by the passage of time; that interest is primarily protected by the Due Process Clause and by statutes of limitations.’ ” (Serna, supra, 40 Cal.3d at p. 259, 219 Cal.Rptr. The right’s purpose is to prevent prejudice to the defendant personally, as distinct from the defendant’s ability to answer the charges: although chief among the harms to be mitigated are “ ‘the possibility of lengthy incarceration prior to trial, [and] the lesser, but nevertheless substantial, impairment of liberty imposed on an accused while released on bail,’ ” the Sixth Amendment speedy trial right is also intended “ ‘to shorten the disruption of life caused by arrest and the presence of unresolved criminal charges.’ ” (Serna, supra, 40 Cal.3d at pp. 259-260.) Delay exceeding one year before the trial of a person thus accused is presumptively prejudicial, and dismissal of the charges “constitutionally compelled in the absence of a demonstration of good cause for the delay.” (Id. at p. 254, 219 Cal.Rptr. 420, 707 P.2d 793.)

“[T]he Sixth Amendment right to speedy trial attaches in misdemeanor prosecutions, as it does in felonies, with the filing of the accusatory pleading, here a misdemeanor complaint, or arrest, whichever is first.” (Serna, supra, 40 Cal.3d at p. 262.)

An “arrest” does not render a person an “accused” under the Sixth Amendment indefinitely: “it appears that the [Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial] attaches upon arrest unless the defendant is released without restraint or charges are dismissed.” (Martinez, supra, 22 Cal.4th at p. 762.) The Sixth Amendment speedy trial right does not apply once the defendants are “ ‘freed without restraint’ ” or “ ‘[o]nce charges are [initially] dismissed.’ ” (Martinez, supra, 22 Cal.4th at pp. 762-763.)

Arrests by Citation under Section 853.6

Unless they demand to immediately appear before a magistrate, a person arrested for a misdemeanor offense, “in order to secure release, shall give their written promise to appear” for arraignment as directed in a citation, or notice to appear. (§ 853.6, subd. (d).) The written notice to appear, prepared in duplicate, bears “the name and address of the person, the offense charged, and the time when, and place where, the person shall appear ….” (§ 853.6, subd. (a)(1).) As the arrestee’s copy of the notice warns, failure to appear is punishable as a misdemeanor. (§ 853.7; Veh. Code, § 40508, subd. (a); Judicial Council of California Form TR-130 [“WARNING: If you fail to appear in court as you have promised, you may be arrested and punished by 6 MONTHS IN JAIL AND/OR A $1,000 FINE regardless of the disposition of the original charge”]5.)

At the time of arrest, the government imposed actual restraints on defendants’ liberty by, as a condition of their release, requiring them to appear in court at a designated time to respond to a law enforcement officer’s accusation that they had committed a misdemeanor offense—actual restraints that would remain in effect unless and until the prosecuting attorney decided not to file charges. (See Serna, supra, 40 Cal.3d at pp. 259-260.)

Cessation of Continuing Restraint

The election by a prosecuting attorney not to file a complaint within the initial 25 days contemplated by section 853.6 places the arrestee in a position that is indistinguishable, for Sixth Amendment speedy trial purposes, from an arrestee who is free pending an ongoing investigation pursuant to a dismissal or a release without charges. Once the dates on the Notices to Appear passed without the District Attorney filing a case against them, Buchanan was freed without restraint in a position indistinguishable from any other individual subject to an ongoing criminal investigation. He was no longer accused and was not entitled to count this time toward the one-year threshold at which prejudice is presumed. See Serna, supra, 40 Cal.3d at pp. 251-253. [delay of more than one year from filing of the misdemeanor complaint to the arrest is presumptively prejudicial].)


The trial court’s orders dismissing the complaint was reversed.

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