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Man Not Prejudiced by Five-Year Arrest Delay

(CN) - The federal government didn't violate a man's right to a speedy trial even though he wasn't arrested until nearly five years after he was indicted, the Ninth Circuit ruled.

John Felix Alexander aka Africa and 21 others were indicted in 2007 for conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud against elderly residents of the United States and Canada.

Though the United States immediately tried to extradite Alexander from Canada for trial, Canada did not approve the request for four years, nine months, and 29 days, according to court records.

But after Canadian officials arrested Alexander in 2012, he resisted extradition for about 16 more months, and upon arrival in the United States he moved to dismiss his indictment.

Alexander claimed that the nearly five-year delay between the indictment and arrest violated his constitutional right to a speedy trial.

Yet U.S. and Canadian officials testified in Los Angeles Federal Court that the extradition process was frustrating, as it took American prosecutor nearly 10 months to submit a draft of the extradition request to the U.S. Justice Department, which then reviewed it for four more months.

Plus, the Canadian Central Authority repeatedly demanded corrections to the request or additional information for over three years before issuing an authority to proceed with the arrest.

This back-and-forth between the two countries is "very typical," officials testified.

U.S. District Judge S. James Otero, who was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2003, refused to dismiss Alexander's indictment, holding that the United States "pursued extradition with reasonable diligence" despite causing more than two years of delays.

In 2014, Otero sentenced Alexander to three and a half years in prison, with three years of supervised release, and ordered him to pay more than $1.1 million in restitution.

Alexander appealed, but the Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower court's ruling Friday, finding that the extradition requests lacked "substantial deficiencies" and the U.S. prosecutor did not "consistently fail to follow protocol."

The unanimous, unsigned ruling states that "Canada was not consistent 'in terms of the questions that [it] ask[ed] the United States,' and further, that delays of this nature are typical of Canadian extradition requests."

But the United States is not jointly liable for Canada's delay, the ruling states.

"The United States neither participated in nor encouraged the delay caused by the Canadian authorities," the panel ruled. "There is no evidence that United States agents were attempting to undermine Alexander's speedy trial right 'by circuitous and indirect methods.' Rather, as the district court concluded, there 'was certainly no cooperation between the prosecutors in Canada and the prosecutors in the United States' during the extradition process."

Alexander failed to show a particularized prejudice, the Ninth Circuit ruled.

"He was not incarcerated for any portion of the overall five-year delay, he has not shown any uncertainty or anxiety resulting from the delay, and he has not provided any non-speculative proof as to how his defense was prejudiced by the delay," the opinion states.

But U.S. Attorney's offices would "do well" to adopt a system to ensure extradition requests' timely submission to the Justice Department and foreign governments, the Ninth Circuit said.

"Such a system would likely have avoided much of the initial 9.6-month delay present here, which, though not sufficient to affect the outcome of this case, is troublesome indeed," the San Francisco-based appeals court noted.

Stanley Greenberg, one of Alexander's L.A.-based attorneys, said the case reveals "a consistent pattern of extraordinary delays with resulting unfairness" between the two countries.

Rather than prosecute their own citizens and residents, Canadian authorities "defer prosecution to the U.S." because U.S. sentencing laws are "far harsher" than those in Canada, which "allows the U.S. to bear the costs of prosecution and incarceration," Greenberg said.

"This court could have had a significant impact on an ongoing problem; so it is disappointing that the Court of Appeals saw it the way they did," he wrote.

Alissa Peterson of Irvine, Calif., who represented Alexander in court, declined to comment on the ruling.

L.A.'s Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kerry O'Neil, Lawrence Middleton, and Ellyn Lindsay, as well as U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker, represented the United States.

Lindsay and fellow U.S. Attorney's Office Major Frauds Section attorney Monica Tait did not return requests for comment emailed Monday.

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