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Houston, Texas – Criminal Defense lawyer represented defendant with a aggravated assault with a deadly weapon charge.
On April 18, 2012, a grand jury indicted Moreno for aggravated assault with
a deadly weapon (the “assault charge”). The same day, the grand jury also indicted
Moreno on an unrelated charge for possession of a controlled substance (the
“possession charge”). The trial court appointed counsel to represent Moreno. Four
months later, in August 2012, Moreno sought a reduction of his bond. The trial court
denied this motion, and Moreno remained in custody.
About three weeks before the first trial setting in September 2012, Moreno
moved for a psychiatric examination, requesting that an expert be appointed to
examine his sanity and competency to stand trial. The trial court granted this motion.
Over the next fifteen months, both Moreno and the State moved for competency
felony of the second degree that the defendant has previously been finally convicted
of a felony other than a state jail felony under Section 12.35(a), on conviction the
defendant shall be punished for a felony of the first degree.”).
determinations, and multiple competency evaluations by experts occurred. On
December 11, 2013, after a trial, a jury determined that Moreno was competent to
2 Following the jury’s competency verdict, the trial court set both cases
against Moreno for a jury trial on January 6, 2014. Moreno moved for a new trial on
the competency issue, and while the trial court denied the motion for new trial, it
reset the cases on the jury trial docket for April 28, 2014.
On April 28, 2014, a jury trial was held solely on the possession charge. The
assault charge—the charge underlying this appeal—did not proceed to trial. After
the jury found Moreno guilty of possession of a controlled substance, the trial court,
in June 2014, assessed his punishment at confinement for 33 years. Moreno appealed
his conviction to this Court, and his appointed appellate counsel filed a brief under
Anders v. California. See 386 U.S. 738, 744 (1967) (establishing procedure for
appointed counsel to follow if counsel determines that appeal is wholly frivolous).
On September 24, 2015, a panel of this Court issued a memorandum opinion holding
that Moreno’s appeal was frivolous (the “possession appeal”). See Moreno v. State,
No. 01-14-00584-CR, 2015 WL 5626624, at *1 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.]
Sept. 24, 2015, no pet.) (mem. op., not designated for publication) (per curiam). We
2 Shortly before the competency trial, the trial court granted Moreno’s motion for
substitution of counsel. Moreno’s second attorney remained his counsel of record
until January 2019.
granted his appointed counsel’s motion to withdraw and affirmed the judgment of
conviction for possession. Our mandate issued on December 4, 2015.
Six days before this Court issued its opinion in the possession appeal, on
September 18, 2015, Washington County District Clerk Tammy Brauner emailed
the assigned prosecutor for Moreno’s cases about the status of the still-pending
assault charge. In this email, Brauner stated:
We still show cause no. 16199-Marco Moreno [assault] pending. He
had two cases 16198 and 16199 that went to jury trial but we only
finished cause no. 16198 [possession]. Can you please check on this
whenever you get a chance and let me know the status.
The prosecutor responded:
It is still pending. Although evidence of 16199 [assault] came in during
the punishment portion of 16,198 [possession], 16199 is still alive and
well. We have not determined when we want to request the court to
bench warrant Moreno back to take him to trial on 16199.
A copy of this email exchange was filed with the district clerk the same day.
In summer 2018, Moreno was granted parole on the possession conviction and
was released from confinement. In October 2018, the trial court coordinator issued
a scheduling order setting the assault charge for a non-trial setting on December 6,
2018. The case was reset until January 10, 2019, “[t]o allow [Moreno] time to retain
an attorney.” Moreno’s counsel, who had represented him since December 2013,
moved to withdraw. The trial court granted the motion and reset the case until
January 24, 2019, for appointment of new counsel.
On January 24, 2019, the trial court appointed new counsel for Moreno. That
same day, the State moved to find Moreno’s bond insufficient. In this motion, the
State recited the history of the case as follows:
At some point during the summer of 2018, Moreno was released on
parole. Due to being incarcerated on a drug offense, no notice was given
to the victim or the District Attorney’s Office of his release. It was only
during a chance conversation with officers from the Brenham Police
Department that the District Attorney’s Office became aware of his
presence in the community.
The State argued that, by releasing Moreno on the possession conviction, the Texas
Department of Criminal Justice (“TDCJ”) had improperly granted Moreno a
personal recognizance bond for the assault charge. The State requested that the trial
court “find Defendant’s personal recognizance bond invalid and issue a capias for
his arrest.” The trial court granted the State’s motion, issued a capias for Moreno’s
arrest, and set his bond at $25,000. The same day, Moreno executed a surety bond.
Also on January 24, 2019, the trial court coordinator issued a scheduling
order, signed by counsel for both Moreno and the State, setting the assault charge
for a jury trial on August 19, 2019. One month before this trial setting, on July 19,
2019, Moreno moved to set aside the assault indictment with prejudice for the failure
to afford him his right to a speedy trial under both the United States and Texas
Constitutions. This motion was originally set for hearing on July 25, 2019 but was
later reset for November 1, 2019. The case was also placed on the bench trial docket
for the same date.
At the hearing on Moreno’s motion, the trial court agreed to take judicial
notice of Moreno’s file. Two witnesses testified at this hearing: Brauner and Kenneth
Franklin, the director of a men’s recovery center in Bryan, Texas. Brauner testified
about the email exchange she had with the prosecutor in September 2015.
Franklin testified that he has been the director of a men’s recovery center in
Bryan for three years. Moreno came to the center as a client about 18 months before
the hearing, but he had graduated from the recovery program and now worked as an
intern for the program. Franklin was aware that Moreno had been released on parole.
Franklin was also aware of Moreno’s mental health history and stated that he
interacts with Moreno every day and Moreno confides in him. Once a month,
Franklin takes Moreno to get an injection at MHMR Mental Health in Bryan to help
with his anxiety. Franklin testified that Moreno does not sleep well, he “worries a
lot,” and “[s]ometimes he gets sort of, like, a paranoid state, like, he wants to be to
himself.” Franklin believed that Moreno was worried about his future and that he
could go back to prison. On cross-examination, Franklin agreed that Moreno was on
parole for at least the next 20 years and could be sent back to prison for violating his
parole. He agreed with the State that Moreno “could be worried about that, too,
separate and aside from this case.”
At the close of the hearing, the trial court granted Moreno’s motion to set aside
the assault indictment and dismissed the indictment with prejudice. At the State’s
request, the trial court issued written findings of fact and conclusions of law in
support of its order dismissing the indictment. The State appealed the trial court’s
order. See TEX. CODE CRIM. PROC. art. 44.01(a)(1) (permitting appeal of order
Right to a Speedy Trial
In its sole issue, the State contends that the trial court erred by granting
Moreno’s motion to set aside the indictment for violating his speedy trial right.
A. Governing Law
In all criminal prosecutions, the Sixth Amendment guarantees the defendant
a speedy trial. U.S. CONST. amend. VI; Vermont v. Brillon, 556 U.S. 81, 89 (2009);
see also TEX.CONST. art. I, § 10 (“In all criminal prosecutions the accused shall have
a speedy public trial by an impartial jury.”); Cantu v. State, 253 S.W.3d 273, 280
n.16 (Tex. Crim. App. 2008) (noting speedy trial right under Texas Constitution
“exists independently of the federal guarantee” but is analyzed using same factors
as federal speedy trial claims). This guarantee is “one of the most basic rights
preserved by our Constitution.” Klopfer v. North Carolina, 386 U.S. 213, 226
(1967). Yet the right remains “vague,” “amorphous,” and “slippery,” making it
“impossible to determine with precision when the right has been denied.” Barker v.
Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 521–22 (1972). It is not subject to quantification in days or
months. Ussery v. State, 596 S.W.3d 277, 282 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2019,
pet. ref’d). Instead, its status depends on the application of the balancing test adopted
by the United States Supreme Court in Barker v. Wingo, “in which the conduct of
both the prosecution and the defendant are weighed” on an ad hoc basis, considering
these four factors:
(1) length of the delay;
(2) reason for the delay;
(3) the defendant’s assertion of the right; and
(4) prejudice to the defendant.
407 U.S. at 530; see Cantu, 253 S.W.3d at 280. The State bears the burden of
justifying the length of the delay, but the defendant has the burden of proving
assertion of the right and showing prejudice. Cantu, 253 S.W.3d at 280; Ussery, 596
S.W.3d at 283. The defendant’s burden on the latter factors “‘varies inversely’ with
the State’s degree of culpability for the delay.” Cantu, 253 S.W.3d at 280; see
Doggett v. United States, 505 U.S. 647, 652 (1992) (“[T]he presumption that pretrial
delay has prejudiced the accused intensifies over time.”). “[T]he greater the State’s
bad faith or official negligence and the longer that its actions delay a trial, the less a
defendant must show actual prejudice or prove diligence in asserting his right to a
speedy trial.” Cantu, 253 S.W.3d at 280–81.
The Barker balancing test is triggered by a delay that is unreasonable enough
to be “presumptively prejudicial.” Id. at 281; see Barker, 407 U.S. at 530 (“The
length of the delay is to some extent a triggering mechanism. Until there is some
delay which is presumptively prejudicial, there is no necessity for inquiry into the
other factors that go into the balance.”); Gonzales v. State, 435 S.W.3d 801, 808
(Tex. Crim. App. 2014) (“This Court has reiterated that ‘presumptive prejudice’
‘simply marks the point at which courts deem the delay unreasonable enough to
trigger [further] [i]nquiry.’”) (quoting State v. Munoz, 991 S.W.2d 818, 821–22
(Tex. Crim. App. 1999)). There is no set time that triggers the analysis, but generally,
courts deem delay approaching one year to be unreasonable enough to trigger the
Barker inquiry. Balderas v. State, 517 S.W.3d 756, 768 (Tex. Crim. App. 2016). The
extent to which the delay exceeds the minimum needed to trigger the Barker analysis
“factors into our assessment of the first Barker factor.” Id.
Once the Barker test is triggered, we analyze the speedy trial claim by
weighing the strength of each factor and then “balancing their relative weights in
light of the conduct of both the prosecution and the defendant.” Cantu, 253 S.W.3d
at 281 (quotation omitted); Ussery, 596 S.W.3d at 283. No one factor is a “necessary
or sufficient condition to the finding of a deprivation of the right of speedy trial.”
Barker, 407 U.S. at 533. Rather, the factors are related and must be considered
together, along with other relevant circumstances. Id.; Cantu, 253 S.W.3d at 281. As
no factor possesses “talismanic qualities,” courts must engage in a “difficult and
sensitive balancing process” in each individual case. Cantu, 253 S.W.3d at 281.
B. Standard of Review
Review of the individual Barker factors necessarily involves both factual
determinations and legal conclusions, but the balancing of the factors as a whole is
a purely legal question. Balderas, 517 S.W.3d at 768; Cantu, 253 S.W.3d at 282.
Thus, we review the trial court’s ruling on a defendant’s Sixth Amendment speedy
trial claim under a bifurcated standard. Cantu, 253 S.W.3d at 282. We review the
factual components of the analysis for an abuse of discretion, deferring to both the
trial court’s resolution of disputed facts and its right to draw reasonable inferences
from those facts. Id.; see Balderas, 517 S.W.3d at 767–68 (“[W]e give almost total
deference to the trial court’s historical findings of fact that the record supports, and
we draw reasonable inferences from those facts necessary to support the trial court’s
findings.”). There are good reasons for such deference, including that the “trial
judge’s personal knowledge of the parties and the sequence of events [does] in fact
place him in a better position to draw inferences than an appellate court without such
familiarity.” Kelly v. State, 163 S.W.3d 722, 726–27 (Tex. Crim. App. 2005).
However, we review the legal components of the analysis de novo. Cantu, 253
S.W.3d at 282; see Gonzales, 435 S.W.3d at 809 (“[W]e review de novo whether
there was sufficient presumptive prejudice to proceed to a Barker analysis and the
weighing of the Barker factors, which are legal questions.”).
The trial court “may completely disregard a witness’s testimony, based on
credibility and demeanor evaluations, even if that testimony is uncontroverted.”
Cantu, 253 S.W.3d at 282. The trial court may disbelieve any evidence if there is a
reasonable and articulable basis for doing so. Id. On appeal, we must view all the
evidence in the light most favorable to the trial court’s ultimate ruling. Id.
In analyzing Moreno’s speedy trial claim, we examine each Barker factor in
turn and then balance the factors together to determine whether Moreno’s right to a
speedy trial was violated.
1. Length of the delay
The length of delay is measured from the time the defendant is arrested or
formally accused. Gonzales, 435 S.W.3d at 809; Ussery, 596 S.W.3d at 284. Because
of the “imprecision” of the right to a speedy trial, the length of delay that triggers an
inquiry under Barker necessarily depends on the particular circumstances of the
case. Zamorano v. State, 84 S.W.3d 643, 648–49 (Tex. Crim. App. 2002). “[T]he
delay that can be tolerated for an ordinary street crime is considerably less than for
a serious, complex conspiracy charge.” Barker, 407 U.S. at 531; Zamorano, 84
S.W.3d at 649. Delay approaching one year generally is unreasonable enough to
trigger the Barker inquiry. Balderas, 517 S.W.3d at 768.
If the defendant demonstrates that the interval between accusation and trial
has crossed from an “ordinary” delay to a “presumptively prejudicial” delay, we
must consider the extent to which that delay stretches beyond the bare minimum
needed to trigger the Barker analysis. Zamorano, 84 S.W.3d at 649. This inquiry is
significant to the analysis because the presumption that a pretrial delay has
prejudiced the defendant intensifies over time. Id. (quoting Doggett, 505 U.S. at
652). If a delay stretches “far beyond the minimum needed to trigger the [i]nquiry,”
the first factor weighs heavily in favor of finding a violation of the defendant’s
speedy trial right. Balderas, 517 S.W.3d at 768; Zamorano, 84 S.W.3d at 649
(“[T]he longer the delay beyond that which is ordinary, the more prejudicial that
delay is to the defendant.”).
Moreno was indicted on the assault charge on April 18, 2012. Moreno moved
to set aside the indictment on July 19, 2019, more than seven years later. On appeal,
the State concedes that the delay in this case is sufficiently long to trigger a full
Barker analysis. We agree. The delay in this case was six years longer than that
generally considered “unreasonable enough” to trigger a Barker analysis. See
Balderas, 517 S.W.3d at 768 (“In general, courts deem delay approaching one year
to be unreasonable enough to trigger the Barker [i]nquiry.” (quotation omitted)).
Because this delay stretched “far beyond the minimum needed to trigger the
inquiry,” we conclude that this factor weighs heavily against the State. See id.;
Zamorano, 84 S.W.3d at 649 (“Because the length of the delay stretched well beyond
the bare minimum needed to trigger judicial examination of the [speedy trial] claim,
this factor—in and of itself—weighs heavily against the State.”).
2. Reason for the delay
As noted, the State bears the burden to justify the delay. See Cantu, 253
S.W.3d at 280. Related to the length of the delay is the reason the State assigns to
justify the delay. Barker, 407 U.S. at 531. We assign different weights to different
reasons. Zamorano, 84 S.W.3d at 649; Balderas, 517 S.W.3d at 768. For example:
A deliberate attempt to delay the trial . . . to hamper the defense should
be weighted heavily against the [State] . . . [while a] more neutral
reason such as negligence or overcrowded courts should be weighted
less heavily but nevertheless should be considered since the ultimate
responsibility for such circumstances must rest with the [State] rather
than with the defendant.
Barker, 407 U.S. at 531; see also Gonzales, 435 S.W.3d at 810 (“Unjustifiable
reasons for delay count towards the ‘length of delay,’ while justifiable reasons for
delay do not.”); Shaw v. State, 117 S.W.3d 883, 890 (Tex. Crim. App. 2003) (“[A]
crowded court docket is not a valid reason for delay and must be counted against the
State, although not heavily.”). “Although a finding of ‘bad-faith delay’ renders relief
almost automatic, a finding of mere negligence will not become automatically
tolerable simply because the accused cannot demonstrate exactly how it has
prejudiced him.” Zamorano, 84 S.W.3d at 649 (quotation omitted).
We must also consider whether the State or the defendant is more to blame
for the delay. Balderas, 517 S.W.3d at 768. “‘In the absence of an assigned reason
for the delay, a court may presume neither a deliberate attempt on the part of the
State to prejudice the defense nor a valid reason for the delay.’” Id. (quoting Dragoo
v. State, 96 S.W.3d 308, 314 (Tex. Crim. App. 2003)). If the State does not offer a
reason for the delay, this factor weighs against the State, albeit not as heavily as if
the delay were deliberate. Hopper v. State, 495 S.W.3d 468, 475 (Tex. App.—
Houston [14th Dist.] 2016), aff’d, 520 S.W.3d 915 (Tex. Crim. App. 2017).
In analyzing the length-of-delay factor in this case, the trial court focused on
the period after April 28, 2014. We agree that any delay before this date should not
weigh against either the State or Moreno because Moreno’s competency was in
question from September 2012 through January 2014, when the trial court denied
Moreno’s motion for new trial after the competency trial. The trial court then set
both the underlying assault charge and the possession charge for trial on April 28,
2014, and the appellate record indicates that the parties prepared for trial on both
charges.3 We therefore conclude that any delay before April 28, 2014, was justified.
3 The appellate record includes documents filed by both Moreno and the State in
advance of the April 2014 trial setting that reference the cause numbers of both
offenses. A copy of the trial court’s docket sheet also reflects that on April 15, 2014,
the court considered and denied a motion to suppress filed by Moreno. These filings
indicate that the parties were preparing for trial on both charges.
See Balderas, 517 S.W.3d at 768 (recognizing some reasons are valid and serve to
justify appropriate delay).
On April 28, 2014, however, the State prosecuted only the possession charge.
The State did not prosecute the assault charge, even though it was set for trial at the
same time (and Moreno was indicted for both charges on the same date). In its
findings of facts, the trial court found the State “failed to insist on [the assault
charge’s] prosecution.” This failure is unexplained by the State. In the hearing on
Moreno’s motion to set aside the indictment, the State did not present any testimony
on the reasons for the delay in bringing Moreno to trial on the assault charge. Instead,
the State sought to avoid the weight of the second Barker factor based on an
argument that it diligently pursued the assault charge against Moreno after the
possession trial. The record belies that claim.
The trial court’s file, which was the subject of judicial notice, reveals no
efforts by the State to bench warrant Moreno, obtain trial settings, or otherwise
prosecute the assault charge for the more than four years after the April 2014
possession trial, until the “chance conversation” that informed the State of Moreno’s
release on parole at some point in summer 2018. In the 17 months after the
possession trial, there was no activity at all in the assault case, prompting the district
clerk to ask about the charge’s status in September 2015. The prosecutor responded
that the assault charge was “still alive and well” but the State “had not determined
when [it wanted] to request the court to bench warrant Moreno back to take him to
trial[.]” Even after this correspondence, the case still lingered on the docket for
another three years. The next case activity was not until October 2018, when the trial
court coordinator issued a scheduling order for a non-jury setting in December 2018.
Considering the State’s decision to bring the assault charge to trial only after
Moreno’s release on parole, the trial court could reasonably find that the State simply
chose not to prosecute the assault charge earlier because it was a low priority while
Moreno was incarcerated for possession.
The State disagrees that it should be charged with full responsibility for this
four-year delay.4 At the speedy trial hearing, the prosecutor argued that the State had
presented evidence of the underlying assault charge during the punishment phase of
the possession trial.5 Moreno then appealed his possession conviction to this Court,
4 To the extent Moreno argues that the later delay occurring in 2019 was the fault of
the State, we note that Moreno was the one who sought substitution of counsel in
January 2019. Balderas v. State, 517 S.W.3d 756, 768 (Tex. Crim. App. 2016)
(“Delay caused by either the defendant or his counsel weighs against the
defendant.”); State v. Davis, 549 S.W.3d 688, 703 (Tex. App.—Austin 2017, no
pet.) (concluding delay caused by appointment of new counsel was “justified
delay”). The trial court appointed new counsel for Moreno on January 24, 2019.
That same day, the court issued a scheduling order setting the case on the jury trial
docket for August 19, 2019. Counsel for both Moreno and the State signed this
scheduling order. Moreno’s counsel filed a pretrial motion requesting discovery and
Brady material in February 2019. Counsel then moved to set aside the indictment
on July 19, 2019, one month before the jury trial setting.
5 Courts have held that the statements of an attorney on the record may be considered
as evidence if the attorney is speaking from first-hand knowledge. See Gonzales v.
State, 435 S.W.3d 801, 811 (Tex. Crim. App. 2014). The record indicates that the
and when the prosecutor and Brauner had their email exchange in September 2015,
this Court had not yet issued an opinion in that appeal. According to the State, it
would have been premature for it to proceed to trial on the assault charge before this
Court’s mandate issued in the possession appeal, and thus the time that elapsed for
the possession appeal is delay attributable to Moreno. We disagree.
The authority the State cites in support of this contention—State v. Davis, 549
S.W.3d 688 (Tex. App.—Austin 2017, no pet.)—is distinguishable. In Davis, the
defendant appealed his conviction for a single count of murder. Id. at 694–95. The
court of appeals reversed the conviction, and on remand, the district court dismissed
the indictment after finding a speedy trial violation. Id. In its Barker analysis, the
court of appeals did not fault the State for the delay associated with the defendant’s
appeal. Id. at 700. Because only one offense was involved, the State could not have
retried the defendant on the single murder count before the mandate issued. See id.
Here, however, Moreno was charged with two separate offenses: possession
and assault. The trial court’s jurisdiction over the assault charge thus did not depend
on the mandate in the possession appeal. In addition, nothing in the record shows
that the viability of the assault charge otherwise depended on the finality of the
possession conviction. To the contrary, the State’s readiness to bring the assault
prosecutor who made representations at the hearing on Moreno’s motion to set aside
the assault indictment was the same prosecutor who participated in the possession
trial, indicating her personal knowledge of the course of that proceeding.
charge to trial as early as April 28, 2014, can be inferred based on the prosecutor’s
representation that it presented evidence of the alleged assault in the punishment
phase of the possession trial.6
Even ignoring the time that Moreno’s possession conviction was on appeal,
the State has not offered a valid reason for the delay between the time the possession
appeal mandate issued in December 2015 and the time the State learned of Moreno’s
release at some point in summer 2018. The State argues that it “accounted for this
delay by citing limited time and resources,” but overcrowded courts and dockets are
not a valid reason for a delay and should be counted against the State because the
“ultimate responsibility for such circumstances must rest with the government rather
than with the defendant.” See Zamorano, 84 S.W.3d at 649; Shaw, 117 S.W.3d at
890; see also Barker, 407 U.S at 538 (White, J., concurring) (observing that
“unreasonable delay in run-of-the-mill criminal cases cannot be justified by simply
asserting that the public resources provided by the State’s criminal-justice system
are limited and that each case must await its turn,” as that approach would “subvert
the State’s own goals in seeking to enforce its criminal laws”). We therefore
conclude this factor weighs against the State.
6 The record in this appeal does not include the transcript of the punishment phase of
the possession trial, but again, the prosecutor who made the representation is the
same prosecutor who participated in the possession trial. See Gonzales, 435 S.W.3d
In considering the weight to assign this factor, we note the trial court did not
find any deliberate attempt on the part of the State to prejudice Moreno’s defense,
concluding instead that the State “simply failed to prosecute this case.” The record
supports this conclusion. Once the State secured its conviction on the possession
charge and that conviction became final after appeal, prosecuting the assault charge
was not a priority for the State for more than three years, until it learned that Moreno
had been released on parole. While the State’s delay may not have been a deliberate
effort to impair Moreno’s defense, and instead reflects only that the State was
unconcerned with prosecuting the assault charge while Moreno was incarcerated, it
is a less neutral reason than mere negligence or administrative delay. See Balderas,
517 S.W.3d at 768 (noting that more neutral reasons for delay, such as negligence
or crowded dockets, weigh “less heavily” against State); see also Doggett, 505 U.S.
at 657 (instructing that “the weight [courts] assign to official negligence compounds
over time as the presumption of evidentiary prejudice grows,” and that “toleration
of such negligence varies inversely with its protractedness”). We will weight this
3. Defendant’s assertion of his speedy trial right
Although the defendant has no duty to bring himself to trial because that is
the State’s duty, the defendant does bear the responsibility to assert his right to a
speedy trial. Cantu, 253 S.W.3d at 281–82. The defendant’s assertion of his speedy
trial right “is entitled to strong evidentiary weight in determining whether the
defendant has been deprived of that right.” Balderas, 517 S.W.3d at 771. A
defendant’s failure to timely demand a speedy trial strongly indicates that he does
not really want a speedy trial. Id.; Dragoo, 96 S.W.3d at 314 (noting defendant’s
failure to assert speedy trial right does not amount to waiver of that right but makes
it difficult to prove defendant was denied speedy trial). “The longer the delay
becomes, the more likely a defendant who wished a speedy trial would be to take
some action to obtain it.” Balderas, 517 S.W.3d at 771 (quotation omitted); see also
Barker, 407 U.S. at 531 (“The more serious the deprivation, the more likely a
defendant is to complain.”). As a result, “inaction weighs more heavily against a
violation the longer the delay becomes.” Balderas, 517 S.W.3d at 771.
In addition, seeking dismissal of a charge instead of a speedy trial generally
weakens a speedy trial claim because it shows a desire to have no trial instead of a
speedy trial. Cantu, 253 S.W.3d at 283. If a defendant does not seek a speedy trial
before seeking dismissal of the charges, “he should provide cogent reasons for this
failure.” Id. “Repeated requests for a speedy trial weigh heavily in favor of the
defendant, while the failure to make such requests supports an inference that the
defendant does not really want a trial, he wants only a dismissal.” Id.; Porter v. State,
540 S.W.3d 178, 182 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2017, pet. ref’d).
Here, Moreno did not assert his right to a speedy trial until July 2019, when
he moved to set aside the indictment. This was more than seven years after he was
indicted and more than five years after his trial on the possession charge. In this
motion, Moreno did not demand that the State bring him to trial; instead, he sought
dismissal of the indictment.
In its findings and conclusions, the trial court stated that it was “unreasonable
to conclude that [Moreno] should have known to file a motion for a speedy trial
given his long history of mental [infirmities] that were acute enough to warrant a
jury trial on his competency (even though the jury found him to be competent to
stand trial).” The trial court noted that while Moreno’s failure to file a motion for a
speedy trial “is not a legal excuse,” Moreno also does not have a duty to bring
himself to trial; instead, that is the State’s duty.
While the record establishes that there have been questions surrounding
Moreno’s competency and that he has other mental health concerns, such as issues
with anxiety, the record also establishes that Moreno was represented by counsel
during the period of delay. His second counsel began representing him in December
2013, shortly before his competency trial, and this attorney remained his counsel of
record until January 10, 2019, when the trial court allowed counsel to withdraw. The
trial court then appointed new counsel to represent Moreno on January 24, 2019,
and, six months later, this counsel moved to dismiss the indictment against Moreno
in July 2019. This is, therefore, not a situation in which Moreno was acting pro se
and was tasked with representing himself. Cf. Ussery, 596 S.W.3d at 287–88 (noting
defendants generally are not entitled to hybrid representation and that when
defendant who is represented by counsel files pro se speedy trial motion, trial court
is not required to consider motion).
The record contains no indication that Moreno asserted his speedy trial right
before his appointed counsel moved to set aside the indictment. Instead, the record
demonstrates that on the same date the trial court appointed new counsel for
Moreno—January 24, 2019—it issued a scheduling order that set the case for a jury
trial on August 19, 2019. Both Moreno and his new counsel signed this scheduling
order. Then, six months later and one month before the trial setting, Moreno moved
to set aside the indictment. In this motion, Moreno sought dismissal of the case with
prejudice; he did not demand a speedy trial.
The trial court concluded that this factor was “neutral” and did not favor the
State or Moreno. We disagree and conclude that Moreno did not timely assert his
speedy trial right. When he did assert his speedy trial right, more than seven years
after his indictment and one month before a jury trial setting, he sought dismissal
and not a trial, indicating that he did not really want a trial. See Balderas, 517 S.W.3d
at 771; Cantu, 253 S.W.3d at 283. We conclude that this factor weighs against
Moreno. See Dragoo, 96 S.W.3d at 314–15 (considering fact that defendant “failed
to assert his speedy trial right for 3 1/2 years, until just before trial, although he was
represented by counsel at all relevant times and no question is raised as to the
competency of such counsel” in concluding factor “weighs very heavily against
finding a violation of the speedy trial right”).
4. Prejudice to defendant
“Because ‘pretrial delay is often both inevitable and wholly justifiable,’ the
fourth Barker factor examines whether and to what extent the delay has prejudiced
the defendant.” Cantu, 253 S.W.3d at 285 (quoting Doggett, 505 U.S. at 656). We
evaluate the prejudice to the defendant considering the three interests that the speedy
trial right was designed to protect: (1) preventing oppressive pretrial incarceration;
(2) minimizing the anxiety and concern of the defendant; and (3) limiting the
possibility that the defense will be impaired. Balderas, 517 S.W.3d at 772. “Of these
types of prejudice, the last is the most serious ‘because the inability of a defendant
adequately to prepare his case skews the fairness of the entire system.’” Cantu, 253
S.W.3d at 285 (quoting Dragoo, 96 S.W.3d at 316). But a defendant’s claim of a
speedy trial violation “need not necessarily demonstrate prejudice to his ability to
present defensive matters.” Zamorano, 84 S.W.3d at 652. Courts have found
prejudice in the Barker analysis based on interference with a single, other interest.
See, e.g., id. at 652–54 (concluding prejudice factor weighed in appellant’s favor
even though “[t]he first and third interests [were] not strongly implicated” because
“[t]he second clearly [was]”).
In his motion to set aside the indictment, Moreno asserted the State’s delay in
bringing the assault charge to trial had interfered with all three of his protected
interests. The trial court did not make any findings as to either the first or third
interest––oppressive pretrial incarceration or impairment of the defense—but did
find that the prejudice factor weighed in Moreno’s favor based on his showing of
anxiety relevant to the second interest. On appeal, the State argues the trial court
erred in finding prejudice because the delay in bringing the assault charge to trial did
not interfere with any of Moreno’s protected interests. We disagree that none of the
interests are affected here. As explained below, even if the first and third interests
are not infringed, the second is.
In determining whether pretrial incarceration is oppressive, the dispositive
consideration is the effect the incarceration has had on the defendant. Smith v. State,
436 S.W.3d 353, 367 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2014, pet. ref’d). Here,
Moreno was unable to make bail after his arrest in April 2012, and the trial court
denied his motion for bail reduction. He was therefore subject to pretrial
incarceration from the date of his arrest until June 2014, when he was sentenced for
the possession conviction, at which point he was transferred to the TDCJ to begin
serving his sentence. Moreno was incarcerated pursuant to his possession conviction
from June 2014 until some point in 2018, when he was released on parole. Moreno
was briefly incarcerated in January 2019,7
after the State resumed prosecution of the
assault charge, but the trial court set his bail at $25,000 on January 24, 2019, and
Moreno executed a surety bond that same day. Moreno was not incarcerated at the
time of the hearing on his motion to set aside the indictment.
Although Moreno was subject to pretrial incarceration for this charge, as the
State points out, a grand jury indicted him for the possession charge on the same
date that it indicted him for the assault charge. Moreno was incarcerated while both
charges were pending until June 2014, when he was convicted of the possession
charge and transferred to the TDCJ. Moreno’s pretrial incarceration was therefore
not attributable solely to the delay that occurred in the underlying case.8 Under the
facts of this case, Moreno was not subjected to oppressive pretrial incarceration, and
this interest is not implicated. See Dragoo, 96 S.W.3d at 315 (noting that, because
defendant was incarcerated for murder during “most of the time” unlawful
7 At the hearing on Moreno’s motion to set aside the indictment, no testimony was
presented concerning Moreno’s incarceration after being released on parole, but
defense counsel represented during argument that Moreno spent “a little over a week
to ten days” in jail before he was able to post bond in January 2019.
8 We note that the trial court found that Moreno’s motion for bail reduction was
denied in August 2012 and concluded that Moreno “is already under significant
restraint due to being on parole until in or about 2045” for the possession offense.
But the court made no other findings concerning whether Moreno was subject to
oppressive pretrial incarceration for this offense.
possession of firearm charge was pending, main concern of prejudice inquiry was
whether defendant’s ability to defend himself was prejudiced by delay in trial of
As to the third interest, limiting the possibility that the defense will be
courts have recognized that “[e]xcessive delay presumptively
compromises the reliability of a trial in ways that neither party can prove or identify.”
Balderas, 517 S.W.3d at 772. However, the State may rebut this presumption of
prejudice. See Gonzales, 435 S.W.3d at 815 (concluding State failed to persuasively
rebut presumption of prejudice arising after six-year delay between indictment and
arrest of defendant, following which defendant quickly asserted his right to speedy
trial); State v. Wei, 447 S.W.3d 549, 557 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2014,
pet. ref’d) (“Absent a showing that appellee acquiesced in the delay, it was the
State’s burden to rebut the presumption of prejudice because appellee was absolved
from the requirement to demonstrate prejudice.” (quotation omitted)). For example,
the presumption of prejudice to a defendant’s ability to defend himself is
“extenuated” by the defendant’s acquiescence in the delay. Shaw, 117 S.W.3d at 890
(quoting Doggett, 505 U.S. at 658); Dragoo, 96 S.W.3d at 315. Additionally,
9 The trial court concluded that the fourth Barker factor—prejudice to the defendant
because of the delay—weighed in favor of Moreno but did not make any findings
or conclusions concerning impairment to Moreno’s defense caused by the delay.
conclusory assertions are not sufficient to carry a defendant’s burden to demonstrate
that he was prejudiced by delay. Ussery, 596 S.W.3d at 289.
Here, when Moreno moved to set aside the indictment in July 2019, the assault
charge against him had been pending for more than seven years, longer than delays
the Court of Criminal Appeals has found to be presumptively prejudicial to a
defendant’s ability to defend himself. See, e.g., Gonzales, 435 S.W.3d at 815
(concluding that due to delay of six years between indictment and defendant’s arrest,
prejudice to defendant’s ability to defend himself was presumed, and burden shifted
to State to persuasively rebut presumption, which State was unable to do); see also
Doggett, 505 U.S. at 657–58 (concluding that defendant was entitled to relief on
speedy trial claim because presumption of prejudice arising from eight and one-half
year delay between indictment and arrest was “neither extenuated, as by the
defendant’s acquiescence, nor persuasively rebutted” (citations omitted)). The
burden therefore shifted to the State to rebut the presumption of prejudice.
At the hearing on Moreno’s motion to set aside the indictment, the State
argued that the prejudice analysis in this case was unique because, in prosecuting the
possession charge in 2014, the State put on evidence concerning the assault charge
during the punishment phase. According to the State, because sworn testimony
concerning the underlying charge has already been taken and can therefore be used
to refresh a witness’s memory or for impeachment, any concern about impairment
of the defense due to fading witness memories has been ameliorated. The record
does not allow that conclusion.
The record in this appeal does not contain any material from the punishment
phase of the possession trial. We thus do not know who or how many witnesses
testified about the alleged assault, what they said, whether a full cross-examination
of the witnesses was permitted, or whether the evidence was meaningfully
scrutinized or the subject of any objection.10 The trial court, having presided at both
the possession trial and at the hearing on Moreno’s motion to set aside the
indictment, apparently was unpersuaded that the assault-related evidence was
sufficiently preserved to ameliorate any prejudice resulting from the delay in
bringing the assault charge to trial, and it made no findings to that effect. We will
not imply them, as doing so would require fact findings that are contrary to the trial
court’s ultimate ruling rather than supportive of it. See Zamorano, 84 S.W.3d at 648
(instructing all evidence must be viewed in light most favorable to trial court’s
ruling). We must still consider that Moreno’s delay in asserting his right to a speedy
trial had some extenuating effect on any presumption of prejudice arising from the
10 Adding to this concern is defense counsel’s statement based on personal knowledge
that Moreno was no longer able to assist in his own defense. Counsel stated:
“[Moreno’s] ability to remember back then to assist me in defending [the assault]
case, we just can’t get there.”
length of the delay. See Dragoo, 96 S.W.3d at 315 (stating presumptive prejudice is
“extenuated . . . by the defendant’s acquiescence” in delay).
But this is not a case in which Moreno’s speedy trial claim depends on a
presumption of prejudice because the evidence supports his showing of anxiety
relevant to his second protected interest. That is, even if a presumption of prejudice
is weakened under the third protected interest and the first protected interest is not
implicated, for reasons already stated, the prejudice factor may still weigh in
Moreno’s favor. See Zamorano, 84 S.W.3d at 652–54. Moreno was not required to
demonstrate prejudice implicating all three of his protected interests. See, e.g., id.
(“Although the last type of prejudice is the most serious, a defendant’s claim of a
speedy trial violation need not necessarily demonstrate prejudice to his ability to
present defensive matters.”); see also Barker, 407 U.S. at 533 (“[E]ven if an accused
is not incarcerated prior to trial, he is still disadvantaged by restraints on his liberty
and by living under a cloud of anxiety, suspicion, and often hostility.”). And it is the
second interest the speedy trial right is designed to protect—minimizing the anxiety
and concern of the defendant—that is implicated most strongly here.
“[G]eneral anxiety is at least some evidence of the type of ‘anxiety’ that the
Supreme Court considers under the prejudice prong of Barker.” Cantu, 253 S.W.3d
at 285–86 (quotation omitted). However, although evidence of generalized anxiety
is relevant, it is not sufficient proof of prejudice under Barker “when it is no greater
anxiety or concern beyond the level normally associated with a criminal charge or
investigation.” Id. at 286; Smith, 436 S.W.3d at 367–68.
Here, Franklin, the director of the men’s recovery center in Bryan, testified
that he has known Moreno since he was released on parole in 2018. Moreno was
initially a client at the center, but he has since graduated and now works as an intern
with the program. Moreno confides in Franklin, through daily interactions, and
Franklin is familiar with Moreno’s mental health issues. When asked whether
Moreno had confided in him “regarding the reason [the parties were] in court today
[on the speedy trial motion],” Franklin answered: “Yes, it’s very hard on him and he
loses sleep.” In addition to his trouble sleeping, Moreno “worries a lot” and
sometimes becomes paranoid. Franklin also testified that he was familiar with
treatments that Moreno was “undergoing due to anxiety and concern about the
[assault] case.” More specifically, Franklin testified that he drives Moreno to a
facility in Bryan once a month to receive an injection to help manage his anxiety.
Franklin agreed that Moreno is worried about his future and the fact that he could go
back to prison, and he acknowledged that Moreno is on parole for at least 20 more
years and that engaging in drug use or committing new offenses could send him back
to prison. Franklin also agreed that Moreno could also be worried about being sent
back to prison due to a parole violation “separate and aside from this case.”
The State does not contest whether Moreno suffered from anxiety, only its
attribution to the delay of the assault trial and not to a more generalized fear of
returning to prison. According to the State, absent evidence tying Moreno’s anxiety
exclusively to the assault trial’s delay, Moreno cannot satisfy the prejudice inquiry.
Essentially, the State asks us to conclude that Moreno’s fear of incarceration is not
relevant to the prejudice inquiry. We disagree.
On this point, we find the Court of Criminal Appeals’ discussion in Zamorano
instructive. See 84 S.W.3d at 652–54. In Zamorano, the appellant testified that the
case pending against him had caused him “a lot of desperation” and that he was
worried about what was going to happen every time he attended court. Id. at 653.
The appellant also testified that he lost income when he was required to appear in
court, an additional circumstance we acknowledge is not at issue here. The court of
appeals in Zamorano—relying on the fact that “the only evidence [appellant] offered
to demonstrate his anxiety was his testimony”—found that appellant’s testimony
was “too little and too late to support a showing of prejudice.” Id. The court of
appeals said: “[G]iven [appellant’s] failure to pursue a motion for speedy trial for
over two and one-half years, we infer that the main source of his anxiety was his fear
of conviction, which is not a proper consideration.” Id. at 653–54. The Court of
Criminal Appeals rejected the inference drawn by the court of appeals. As to the
evidence of the appellant’s anxiety, the Court reasoned:
It is true that the only evidence appellant offered to demonstrate his
anxiety was his own testimony. However, because the State did not
challenge appellant’s testimony, it is at least some evidence of the type
of ‘anxiety’ that the Supreme Court considers under the prejudice prong
of Barker. The court of appeals dismissed the main source of
appellant’s anxiety as his ‘fear of conviction.’ Even assuming that the
court of appeals correctly characterized the source of appellant’s
anxiety, the sword of Damocles weighs no less merely because the
source of anxiety is appellant’s fear of conviction and the resultant asyet-unknown punishment.
Id. at 654. The Court concluded that the “length of delay itself supports an inference
of actual prejudice,” as did the testimony of the economic costs and disruptions to
appellant’s employment. Id.
Considering this authority and viewing the evidence in the light most
favorable to the trial court’s ultimate ruling, as required by the standard of review,
we agree with the trial court that Franklin’s testimony was some evidence that the
delay in bringing Moreno to trial on the assault charge has caused him anxiety, which
is a relevant consideration in whether he has been prejudiced by the delay. See id.;
see also Balderas, 517 S.W.3d at 773. The trial court described the severity of
Moreno’s anxiety as “great,” and expressly found Franklin’s testimony regarding
Moreno’s anxiety was credible “because it [was] corroborated by [Moreno’s] long
history of mental [infirmities] . . . acute enough to warrant a jury trial on his
competency.” From Franklin’s testimony, the trial court could reasonably infer that
Moreno suffered anxiety “beyond the level normally associated with a criminal
charge.” See Cantu, 253 S.W.3d at 286 (“[E]vidence of generalized anxiety, though
relevant, is not sufficient proof of prejudice under the Barker test, especially when
it is no greater anxiety or concern beyond the level normally associated with a
criminal charge or investigation.”) Indeed, the trial court was best positioned to
determine the source and severity of Moreno’s anxiety given its familiarity with
Moreno’s mental health gained through the competency proceedings. See Kelly, 163
S.W.3d at 726–27. This factor thus weighs in favor of Moreno regardless of whether
Moreno’s other interests are not strongly implicated.
5. Balancing the Barker factors
“Dismissal of the charging instrument with prejudice is mandated only upon
a finding that an accused’s Sixth Amendment speedy-trial right was actually
violated.” Cantu, 253 S.W.3d at 281. Dismissal of the charges against a defendant
is a “radical remedy,” and therefore we must apply the Barker balancing test “with
common sense and sensitivity to ensure that charges are dismissed only when the
evidence shows that a defendant’s actual and asserted interest in a speedy trial has
been infringed.” Id.; Ussery, 596 S.W.3d at 291.
Undoubtedly, this is a close case. But giving appropriate deference to the trial
court, three of the four Barker factors weigh in favor of granting Moreno relief.
Weighing in favor of finding a violation of Moreno’s speedy trial right is the fact
that the delay here was excessive, more than seven years from the date Moreno was
indicted to the date he moved to set aside the indictment. The first two years of delay
was justified, and we attribute no fault to either the State or Moreno for that period;
however, more than four years of the subsequent delay was caused by the State’s
failure to pursue prosecution of the assault charge while Moreno was incarcerated
on another charge. The length of delay thus weighs against the State, and not lightly.
In addition, Moreno presented evidence that he was prejudiced because he
suffers anxiety attributable to the delay, which evidence the trial court determined
was credible based in part on its own familiarity with Moreno’s “long history” of
“acute” “mental infirm[ities].” The State contends the evidence of prejudice was
minimal. But “[c]ondoning prolonged and unjustifiable delays in prosecution would
both penalize many defendants for the state’s fault and simply encourage the
government to gamble with the interests of criminal suspects assigned a low
prosecutorial priority.” Zamorano, 84 S.W.3d at 655 (quoting Doggett, 505 U.S. at
657); see also Doggett, 505 U.S. at 657 (“The Government . . . can hardly complain
too loudly, for persistent neglect in concluding a criminal prosecution indicates an
uncommonly feeble interest in bringing an accused to justice; the more weight the
Government attaches to securing a conviction, the harder it will try to get it.”). The
prosecution of the assault charge against Moreno may have been of little moment to
the State until it learned by “chance” that he had been released on parole, but the
record supports that it mattered greatly to Moreno.
What makes this case close is Moreno’s tardy assertion of his right to a speedy
trial. See, e.g., Dragoo, 96 S.W.3d at 314 (defendant’s failure to assert right makes
it difficult to prove denial of speedy trial). Moreno did not assert his speedy trial
right until more than seven years had passed from when he was indicted, and when
he did assert that right, he moved for dismissal of the indictment—not for a speedy
trial—one month before a jury trial setting. Had Moreno asserted the right sooner,
all four factors would weigh in his favor. But his belated filing of a motion to set
aside the indictment means this factor must weigh against him. See id. at 314–15
(defendant “quietly acquiesced” to delay by failing to timely assert speedy trial
violation). Controlling decisions instruct that this factor is entitled to “strong
evidentiary weight in determining whether the defendant is being deprived of the
right [to a speedy trial].” Gonzales, 453 S.W.3d at 810 (quoting Barker, 407 U.S. at
531–32); see also Cantu, 253 S.W.3d at 283 (“[T]he defendant’s assertion of his
speedy-trial right (or his failure to assert it) is entitled to strong evidentiary weight
in determining whether the defendant is being deprived of the right. Filing for a
dismissal instead of a speedy trial will generally weaken a speedy-trial claim because
it shows a desire to have no trial instead of a speedy one.”). But controlling decisions
also emphasize the need to appraise all the relevant circumstances and, specifically,
the four factors herein considered, only one of which is the defendant’s assertion of
the right. See Barker, 407 U.S. at 533 (factors are related and must be considered
together with such other circumstances as may be relevant). If this third factor, could
by itself defeat Moreno’s claim, it would not be aptly described as merely one of
four factors to be weighed together. See id.
Keeping in mind the inverse relationship between the State’s culpability and
the defendant’s burden in the Barker analysis, see Cantu, 253 S.W.3d at 280–81, we
conclude that (1) Moreno’s burden to assert the right to a speedy trial and show
prejudice was lessened by the weight of the first two factors against the State, and
(2) the balance of the Barker factors supports a conclusion that Moreno was denied
his constitutional right to a speedy trial. We therefore hold the trial court did not err
in granting Moreno’s motion to set aside the indictment.
We overrule the State’s sole issue.
Outcome: We affirm the judgment of the trial court.