Appeals court: Trial delays didn’t harm Mississippi convict’s defense

State

Brian Berryman (Courtesy: MDOC)

TUPELO, Miss. (AP) — An appeals court in Mississippi has ruled against a man who said he was denied his constitutional right to a speedy trial.

Brian Berryman, 58, was arrested in February of 2017 and was sentenced to life as a habitual offender after being convicted in June 2020 for being a felon in possession of a firearm, according to a report in the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.

A majority of seven judges on the Mississippi State Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that, while the case took too long to come to trial, the delay didn’t harm Berryman’s ability to offer a defense.

Attorneys for the state had acknowledged that after his indictment, Berryman was “out of sight, out of mind” for a time after his indictment. The newspaper reported that Berryman was in custody at a south Mississippi prison but not arraigned and formally presented with his indictment for almost 400 days.

Multiple changes of public defenders assigned to Berryman, a judge’s illness and the COVID-19 pandemic were among other causes of trial delays.

Two judges partially dissented, not because of the trial delay but because they said there was merit to an argument that Berryman’s indictment wasn’t clear enough about the penalties he faced.

One judge fully dissented.

“The right to a speedy trial should be treated no less and no more than our sacred rights to speak our minds or to bear arms in defense of our homes, or our right to even have a trial should we be arrested,” Judge David Neil McCarty wrote in his dissent. “We should not allow a constitutional right to be fumbled away by bureaucracy and confusion, as it was in this case. Nor should its deprivation be used to oppress our citizens.”

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