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Court Says U.S. Can Try Indian Leader Banks

January 21, 1986|United Press International

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court, placing new restrictions on the right to a speedy trial, ruled today that decade-old firearms charges against American Indian leader Dennis Banks and several colleagues can be reinstated.

In a 5-4 decision, the court said delays in pretrial appeals did not violate the defendants' right to a speedy trial because the appeals were justified and the defendants were not jailed or substantially restricted throughout the period.

The court also held that a 46-month period between one court's decision to dismiss the charges against the defendants and the government's successful appeal of that decision should be excluded from the length of delay considered under the speedy trial clause.

Crowded Court Reasoning

Writing for the court, Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. said, "While a deliberate attempt to delay the trial in order to hamper the defense would be weighed heavily against the government, a delay from overcrowded courts--as was the situation here--would be weighed less heavily."

The case arose on Nov. 14, 1975, when Oregon state troopers stopped two vehicles in search of Banks, Kenneth Moses Loud Hawk and several others who had been considered fugitives since the 1973 battles at Wounded Knee, S.D., between militant Indians and federal authorities.

Banks and the others were indicted for firearms violations in the Nov. 25, 1975, incident but various delays, motions and pretrial appeals kept the trial from taking place. On May 20, 1983, a federal district court for a second time dismissed the indictments, saying the defendants' right to a speedy trial had been violated.

"Here, respondent's speedy trial claims are reminiscent of Penelope's tapestry," Powell wrote in recounting the history of the case. "At the same time respondents were making a record of claims in the district court for speedy trial, they consumed six months by filing indisputably frivolous petitions for re-hearing."

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