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Court Lets Ruling Stand in California Speedy Trial Case

March 31, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court today let stand a ruling that a criminal suspect’s right to a speedy trial must be presumed violated if law enforcement officials take too long to arrest him.

The court, without comment, refused to hear an appeal by California authorities in the case of a former gas station attendant arrested on embezzling charges nearly 4 1/2 years after the alleged crime.

Los Angeles police charged that Joaquin Serna took $955 in cash and disappeared after working his Sept. 8, 1978, night shift at a service station.

A misdemeanor complaint against Serna was filed three weeks later and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

But police believe he fled to Florida, and he was not arrested until Feb. 16, 1983.

Serna said he had left a forwarding address and did not try to conceal his whereabouts when he left Los Angeles in December 1978.

He said his arrest in 1983 and the plans to prosecute him violated his constitutional right to a speedy trial.

In other action, the court:

- Agreed to decide whether states may require companies with federally approved mining operations on federal lands to obtain state permits as well.

The justices said they will hear arguments by California authorities that a limestone-mining operation in Los Padres National Forest should be required to obtain a state permit.

- Agreed to decide whether prosecutors may use as trial evidence a pistol retrieved by Detroit policemen after chasing a man who had run away when he saw them.

The justices said they will review rulings that the pistol may not be used as evidence because it was seized after unlawful police conduct.

- Refused to kill a lawsuit by actress Robyn Douglass against Hustler magazine, which in 1981 published nude photographs of her.

The justices, without comment, let stand a ruling ordering a new trial against Hustler in a suit by Ms. Douglass, who starred as a college coed in the movie ″Breaking Away.″ Lawyers for Hustler contended that the lawsuit violates the magazine’s free-press rights.

- Cleared the way for a lawsuit charging the Chicago parks department with discriminating against blacks and Hispanics.

The justices, without comment, rejected an appeal by Chicago Park District officials seeking to throw out the suit.

In the speedy-trial case, the California Supreme Court ruled last November that ″the delay was presumptively prejudicial,″ and noted that there is a one-year statute of limitations in California for misdemeanors.

Had the police failed to file a complaint in 1978 against Serna, his prosecution would have been barred after one year elapsed, the state court said.

″Although there may be cases in which a defendant is able to demonstrate actual prejudice from delays of shorter duration, he need not do so when the delay exceeds the period of limitation established by the (state) legislature,″ the state court said.

It ordered law enforcement officials to justify the delay in arresting Serna or drop the charges, and ordered further lower court hearings on whether such justification exists.

Los Angeles City Attorney James K. Hahn, in the appeal acted on today, said Serna’s speedy trial rights were not violated because the suspect said he did not even know he was wanted by police until he was arrested.

In such circumstances, Hahn said, the suspect has not lost his freedom, ″his employment is not disrupted, his finances are not drained and he could not be subjected to public obloquy or anxiety.″

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