WASHINGTON (CN) - The Supreme Court reneged Monday on its plans to review a murder case where the state did fund the indigent defendant's counsel for five years.
Jonathan Boyer was convicted of second-degree murder and armed robbery with the use of a firearm after a week long trial in 2009, seven years after had he initially been indicted for first-degree murder, which would have carried the death penalty. During the first five years, the defense sought and received at least eight delays of a hearing to determine which branch of the state government would pay their fees.
Louisiana finally put the case on track in 2007 by reducing the charges and therefore the expected defense costs.
The evidence showed that Boyer had tried to rob a trucker named Bradlee Marsh who offered him and his brother a ride as they walked along a roadway in Sulphur, La. After Marsh refused to give Boyer money, Boyer shot Marsh three times in the head, and stole his money and a silver chain. Marsh died from his injuries, and police apprehended Boyer a month later in Jacksonville, Fla.
Boyer is serving life without the possibility of parole.
The Louisiana Court of Appeal's Third Circuit affirmed the convictions in February 2011, rejecting Boyer's speedy trial arguments as "more perfunctory than aggressive."
"Defendant alleges that the seven-year pretrial incarceration severely prejudiced his case in that he lost his job, suffered a mental breakdown, became psychotic, and was unable to assist with his defense," the decision stated. "Moreover, witnesses died or disappeared."
Though the court agreed that it was "presumptively prejudicial" that Boyer spent over seven years between his arrest and conviction behind bars, it said Louisiana's "funding crisis" excused the delay.
"While the incident before the trial court was a very serious offense, it was not overly complicated," the court found. "Defendant confessed to the crime. His brother, who was at the scene, testified that defendant killed the victim. But for the procedural problem, lack of funding for a capital case, the case would have progressed in a timely manner."
The U.S. Supreme Court granted Boyer a writ of certiorari in October 2012, but it dismissed that writ as improvidently granted on Monday.
Writing in dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the court should have found that "a delay caused by a state's failure to fund counsel for an indigent's defense should be weighed against the state."
"It is important for states to understand that they have an obligation to protect a defendant's constitutional right to a speedy trial," Sotomayor added.
She was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan.
"Where a state has failed to provide funding for the defense and that lack of funding causes a delay, the defendant cannot reasonably be faulted," Sotomayor wrote. "Placing the consequences of such a delay squarely on the state's shoulders is proper for the simple reason that an indigent defendant has no control over whether a state has set aside funds to pay his lawyer or fund any necessary investigation. The failure to fund an indigent's defense is not as serious as a deliberate effort by a state to cause delay. But states routinely make tradeoffs in the allocation of limited resources, and it is reasonable that a state bear the consequences of these choices."