Dismissal of charges  not the remedy for unreasonable delay in notifying prisoner of California detainer

People v. Nguyen (2022) 82 Cal.App.5th 888 [298 Cal.Rptr.3d 877, 879–885, 82 Cal.App.5th 888]

Summary: Under the Interstate Agreement on Detainers (Detainer Agreement, Pen. Code, § 1389), a person serving a sentence of imprisonment in one participating state  who has a detainer for charges pending in another participating state may demand final disposition of those pending charges within 180 days of receipt of the demand.  The issue is whether another state’s unreasonable delay in notifying Nguyen of his California detainer and right to demand final disposition of the underlying charges

entitles him to dismissal of his pending charges. (§ 1389, art. III, subd. (a).) This is a question of federal law. Federal decisions hold  that dismissal is not a remedy for breach of this duty of prompt notice.


In December 2016, the Santa Clara County District Attorney)filed a complaint charging Nguyen with possession for sale and transportation of a controlled substance.

Six months later, the District Attorney filed a complaint in a second case charging Nguyen with additional controlled substance offenses.

In July 2017, Nguyen was arrested in La Plata County, Colorado for selling marijuana. The following year, he was convicted and sentenced to six years in Colorado state prison.

On July 18, 2018, while incarcerated in Colorado, Nguyen sent an informal request to the warden for a final disposition of his pending charges in Santa Clara County. Two days later, Nguyen forwarded his informal request to the District Attorney. On  August 28, 2018, the District Attorney lodged a detainer with the Colorado warden, citing his pending felony charges. The Colorado warden acknowledged receipt of the detainer the next day, August 29, 2018.

It was not until December 5, 2018, a delay of 14 weeks, that the Colorado warden served Nguyen with the detainer and notice of his right to demand final disposition of the charges. That same day, Nguyen formally requested final disposition of the charges; the District Attorney received Nguyen’s request from the Colorado warden on December 21, 2018.

On March 4, 2019, Nguyen was transported to Santa Clara County and was arraigned the next day in his pending felony cases. Nguyen moved to dismiss these and three pending misdemeanor matters under the Detainer Agreement, citing the lapse of more than 180 days from receipt  by the Santa Clara County Superior Court and District Attorney of his informal, predetainer request for final disposition of his charges.

On May 31, 2019, a magistrate granted Nguyen’s motion to dismiss, finding that “the clock [under section 1389, article III of the Detainer Agreement] began in July of 2017,” when the District Attorney began extradition proceedings.

The superior court granted the  District Attorney’s motion to reinstate the charge. Nguyen argued that the superior court erred by ordering the reinstatement of the dismissed complaints under section 871.5 without conducting a hearing to determine whether the Colorado warden unreasonably delayed notifying him of the detainer and his right under article III of the Detainer Agreement to request final disposition of his pending California charges.

Dismissal under the Detainer  Agreement

When a magistrate dismisses  an action under the Detainer Agreement, the prosecutor may make a motion in the superior court to compel the magistrate to reinstate the dismissed complaint. (§ 871.5, subd. (a).) “The only ground for the motion shall be that, as a matter of law, the magistrate erroneously dismissed the action or a portion thereof.” (§ 871.5, subd. (b).) On appeal, the Court examines the magistrate’s ruling to determine if the dismissal was erroneous as a matter of law. (People v. Shrier (2010) 190 Cal.App.4th 400, 409-410 (Shrier).)

Legal Principles Governing the Detainer Agreement

The Detainer Agreement, codified in California at section 1389, “ ‘facilitates the resolution of detainers, based on untried indictments, informations or complaints in one jurisdiction, lodged against persons who have “entered upon a term of imprisonment” in another jurisdiction.’ ” (People v. Lavin (2001) 88 Cal.App.4th 609.) The Detainer Agreement “is intended to ‘encourage the expeditious and orderly disposition’ of any outstanding criminal charges.”  “[T]he Detainer Agreement is a congressionally sanctioned interstate compact, the interpretation of which presents a question of federal law.”

The  Detainer Agreement defines the responsibilities of (1) the “sending state” in which a person is presently serving a sentence of imprisonment and (2) the “receiving state,” in which that person still has pending charges that are subject to a “detainer.” A detainer is  a formal notification, lodged with the authority under which a prisoner is confined, advising that the prisoner is wanted for prosecution in another jurisdiction.”

Under the Detainer Agreement, a person serving a sentence in the sending state but subject to a detainer from the receiving state can demand a speedy disposition of the charges giving rise to the detainer.  The  warden of the institution in which the prisoner is incarcerated is required to inform him promptly of the source and contents of any detainer lodged against him and of his right to request final disposition of the charges. If the prisoner does make such a request, the jurisdiction that filed the detainer must bring [the prisoner] to trial within 180 days. If the matter does not proceed to trial within the 180-day time period, the court “shall enter an order dismissing the same with prejudice.” (§ 1389, art. V, subd. (c).) The 180-day time period described in article III, subdivision (a) does not commence, however, until the person’s request for final disposition has been delivered to the appropriate court and prosecuting officer of the jurisdiction that lodged the detainer.

Breach of Duty to Promptly Inform

Nguyen on appeal acknowledges that the Detainer Agreement’s 180-day time limit did not commence until December 21, 2018, when the District Attorney received his request for final disposition of his charges. Nguyen argued that he is entitled to dismissal of the charges if the Colorado warden’s  delay of 14 weeks before informing Nguyen of the detainer was unreasonable and  it was error for the trial court to reinstate the complaints without a hearing on the reasons for delay. Under prevailing federal interpretation of the Detainer Agreement, even an unreasonable breach by the Colorado warden of the article III duty to promptly inform Nguyen of the detainer would not entitle him to dismissal.

Federal courts have consistently precluded dismissal as a form of relief when there has been a violation of the Detainer Agreement’s article III notice provision, whether due to a failure to promptly notify a defendant of a detainer or a failure to notify a defendant of his or her right to request a final disposition of a detainer.

The Detainer Agreement mandates dismissal of a charging document in only three enumerated circumstances: (1) if the receiving state returns the defendant to the sending state before completion of trial (§ 1389, art. IV, subd. (e))11; (2) if the receiving state fails to accept temporary custody of the defendant after filing a detainer (§ 1389, art. V, subd. (c)); and (3) if the defendant is not brought to trial within 180 days of a State receiving a defendant’s formal request or within 120 days of the defendant’s arrival in a receiving state that requested temporary custody (§ 1389, arts. III, subd. (a); IV, subd. (c); V, subd. (c)).

Here, a demand to permit a hearing to determine the reasonableness of the delay would serve no purpose under the Detainer Agreement, given the text’s omission of a remedy for the breach of ministerial duty here at issue.

The  magistrate’s dismissal of the complaints was erroneous as a matter of law, and the superior court properly ordered the magistrate’s reinstatement of the complaints under section 871.5.

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