In United States v. Tigano, No. 15-3073 (Winter, Walker, Pooler), the Second Circuit issued a short order reversing the conviction of Joseph Tigano, III and dismissing the indictment with prejudice. The Court noted that a full opinion in the case would be forthcoming. Gary Stein, a former chief appellate attorney in the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, and now in private practice, represented Tigano pursuant to a court appointment.
Although the Court’s order did not reveal the grounds for reversal, the case had drawn attention for the speedy trial claim that Mr. Tigano had raised on appeal, and it appears that this was the basis for reversal. Mr. Tigano was arrested in July 2008 and charged with various counts related to operating a marijuana farm near Buffalo, New York; however, he was not tried until May 2015—nearly seven years later—based on a variety of factors. One of the most significant factors contributing to the delay was the notorious backlog of cases in the Western District of New York. According to Mr. Tigano’s attorneys, the Western District had one of the highest caseloads per judgeship out of all the federal district courts nationwide between 2008 and 2014, a challenge which was only exacerbated when two of the district’s four active judges took senior status during that time period. The backlog was not the only apparent reason for the extraordinary delay in trying Mr. Tigano. Other factors included delayed plea negotiations, a court reporter taking four months to prepare the transcript for a daylong hearing, and an extended competency hearing that, according to Mr. Tigano’s lawyers, was ironically prompted by Mr. Tigano’s straightforward request for a speedy trial. Although he was sentenced to a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence, the Court’s order resulted in Mr. Tigano’s release after he had spent seven years in jail during the pretrial process and two years in prison after his conviction.
If it turns out that Mr. Tigano’s speedy trial claim carried the day, the reversal would be the first time in decades that the Circuit has reversed a conviction on speedy trial grounds. The case thus serves as a reminder of the importance of marshalling a compelling factual narrative, which can go a long way in advancing legal arguments that are ordinarily difficult to win. Outstanding advocacy is important in these types of cases, and the defendant received it here. The case also highlights the practical consequences that follow from an overburdened court system, an issue that seems to be persistently raised by practitioners and judges. Although the facts here are extraordinary, it seems likely that other defendants have waited too long for their day in court. Only additional resources for our criminal justice system will address this systemic problem.