A Louisiana man spent nearly 3,000 days in jail awaiting trial on a drug charge — and the judge blamed his defense attorney’s requests for a speedy trial.
Kevin Smith was arrested in New Orleans on Feb. 11, 2010, when state police and federal drug agents found baggies of crack cocaine inside a safe at his New Orleans home, reported The Advocate.
The parolee faced a possible 20-year to life term in prison as a habitual offender, one of his lawyers said, due to a previous drug charge.
That parole issue also prevented Smith from being released on $50,000 bail as he awaited trial.
His trial on one charge of felony possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine was originally scheduled for Aug. 9, 2011, but the state stopped after seven jurors were picked because prosecutors claimed to have discovered new evidence that should have been given to Smith’s attorneys.
Prosecutors dismissed the original charge and brought a new one the following day — which restarted the two-year deadline to try the case.
Hurricane Isaac hit Louisiana the day before his next trial was set to begin, Aug. 29, 2012, and the courthouse was closed for several days.
Prosecutors argued their two-year deadline was again reset under a law passed after Hurricane Katrina, and then Smith’s case was transferred to another section of court — and a new judge, who inexplicably never got his case until May 2013.
Smith rejected a 10-year plea deal, which could have gotten him released in January 2015, but he insisted he was not guilty and wanted the case to be tried.
He filed a motion on his own behalf for a trial after defense attorneys asked for a mental competency exam, and Smith was found to be competent, but his attorneys told the court they were not ready to try the case.
Both prosecutors and Smith’s attorneys requested delays, and the jailed man again filed a motion on his own behalf, in December 2016, asking to quash the charges because his right to a speedy trial had been denied.
Smith’s attorneys agreed, and they asked Criminal District Court Judge Tracey Flemings-Davillier to dismiss the case.
But the judge ruled against Smith, finding that the hurricane and Smith’s mental competency hearing had justifiably pushed back his trial deadline by four years.
Smith’s lawyers appealed Flemings-Davillier’s ruling, and the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal ruled in his favor and ordered him freed.
Prosecutors then appealed that decision, but the Louisiana Supreme Court declined to hear the case last week.
Smith had to wait a bit longer for his release, however.
Flemings-Davillier said Thursday that she would allow prosecutors to argue again that Smith should remain jailed, but they finally dropped their opposition to quashing the case after a hearing Monday.
The judge ordered Smith released Monday, 2,832 days after he was first jailed, and he’s expected to go free within a few days.
The judge blamed Smith and his attorneys for filing so many motions seeking a speedy trial, and prosecutors agree.
“How do I feel about it? Why didn’t the case go to trial? Well, because the defendant did a masterful job of continuing the case over and over again,” said District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro.
Flemings-Davillier admitted she could not assure that another defendant might face such a lengthy delay.
“I’m not going to say it can’t happen again, but this one had so many factors,” the judge said.