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United States v. Jeffs

United States District Court, D. Utah

August 3, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
LYLE STEED JEFFS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO CONTINUE JURY TRIAL

          TED STEWART, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Continue Jury Trial. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant the Motion and continue the trial to October 23, 2017.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On February 17, 2016, the grand jury returned an Indictment against Defendant, charging him with conspiracy to commit Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”) benefits fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Defendant first appeared before the Court on February 24, 2016. Defendant was ordered detained.

         A status conference was conducted on March 21, 2016, at which time a trial was set for May 31, 2016. Upon a motion from the government, the trial date was continued to October 3, 2016.

         On June 9, 2016, the Court agreed to release Defendant on conditions. Soon thereafter, Defendant absconded until his arrest on June 14, 2017. A Superseding Indictment was issued on June 21, 2017, adding a charge of failure to appear. Defendant appeared on the Superseding Indictment on July 10, 2017. At that time, a trial date was set for September 18, 2017. Defendant now seeks a continuance.

         II. DISCUSSION

         The Court considers the following factors when considering a motion to continue trial:

the diligence of the party requesting the continuance; the likelihood that the continuance, if granted, would accomplish the purpose underlying the party's expressed need for the continuance; the inconvenience to the opposing party, its witnesses, and the court resulting from the continuance; the need asserted for the continuance and the harm that [the moving party] might suffer as a result of the district court's denial of the continuance.[1]

         These factors are weighed according to the dictates of the case. “No single factor is determinative and the weight given to any one may vary depending on the extent of the [defendant's] showing on the others.”[2] Considering these factors, the Court finds that a continuance is appropriate, but not to the extent requested by Defendant.

         First, the Court finds that defense counsel has been largely diligent. Counsel acted diligently in the early stages of this case, pursuing various motions including motions to dismiss. However, after Defendant absconded, counsel's efforts decreased and they eventually “discontinued investigation.”[3] While the Court cannot fault counsel for trying to effectively utilize limited resources, certain tasks could have been accomplished even with Defendant's absence. Overall, however, the Court finds that defense counsel have been diligent in their efforts to prepare for trial. Therefore, this factor favors a continuance.

         Second, the Court finds that granting a continuance would accomplish the purpose underlying Defendant's expressed need for the continuance. Defendant has identified several reasons for his requested continuance, including: the complexity of the case; the unavailability of Defendant to assist in trial preparation; the difficulty of locating witnesses; the loss of defense counsel's main investigator and the need for a new investigator to become knowledgeable in the matter; the need to hire a forensic accountant to testify at trial; the need to investigate Defendant's past potential brain injuries; and the need for a longer trial setting. Not all of these considerations provide a valid basis for a continuance. For example, the fact that Defendant absented himself from these proceedings, impeding his counsel's efforts to prepare, does not provide a sufficient basis for a continuance. Other factors, such as the need for a longer trial setting, are similarly inappropriate considerations.[4] However, when considered as a whole, these factors justify a continuance. Defense counsel will not be adequately prepared to present a constitutionally sufficient defense with the current trial setting. Therefore, this factor weighs in favor of a continuance.

         Third, there is no specific inconvenience to the government, its witnesses, and the Court resulting from the continuance. The Court is cognizant of the government's general interest in asserting its and the public's right to a speedy trial. However, the government was unaware of any specific witness availability concerns should a continuance be granted. Defendant's Motion was filed far enough in advance of trial that the Court will not suffer any inconvenience if a continuance is granted. Jury notices have not been sent and the Court has yet to begin substantial trail preparations. Therefore, while recognizing the interest of the government and the public in a speedy trial, this factor does not weigh against granting a continuance.

         Finally, the Court finds that Defendant will suffer harm if denied a continuance. Based on Defendant's Motion, the Court concludes that the failure to grant a continuance would impair Defendant's ability to present an adequate defense. Therefore, this factor weighs in favor of granting a continuance and the trial will be continued. However, the Court will not grant Defendant the full extension requested. The Court will grant a modest extension to October 23, 2017. The Court believes this continuance will ...


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