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Court: Speedy-Trial Rule Flexible

January 11, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ States do not violate criminal defendants’ right to a speedy trial every time they fail to conduct a trial within the 180 days required by a multistate agreement, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously today.

A defense lawyer’s agreement to hold the trial beyond that 180-day deadline bars his client from later seeking to overturn a conviction based on speedy-trial rights, the court said as it reinstated a New York man’s second-degree murder and robbery conviction.

The state’s highest court had thrown out Michael Hill’s convictions and ordered the charges against him dropped. The state court said prosecutors failed to bring Hill to trial within the time required by the Interstate Agreement on Detainers, a 1957 compact among nearly all the states.

Hill was being held at the Lorain Correctional Institution in Grafton, Ohio, in 1993 when New York authorities filed notice that he was wanted on charges of murder and robbery in the shooting death of Michael Weeks in the Rochester suburb of Gates on New Year’s Eve 1992.

Hill invoked the speedy-trial provisions of the interstate agreement but pretrial maneuvering by his defense team put the deadline on hold for about seven months.

But the deadline clock was running when in January 1995 prosecution and defense lawyers met to set a trial date. The prosecutor said a May 1 trial date had been discussed and when asked by a judge, Hill’s lawyer said, ``That will be fine.″

Hill later was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison. But the New York Court of Appeals said Hill had not waived his speedy-trial protection because neither he nor any defense lawyer had made an ``affirmative request″ for a trial date beyond the 180-day deadline.

Writing for the nation’s highest court today, Justice Antonin Scalia said, ``What suffices for a waiver depends on the nature of the right at issue.″ In cases like Hill’s, he said, ``absent a demonstration of ineffectiveness, counsel’s word on such matters is the last.″

The case is New York vs. Hill, 98-1299.

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