Rule 50


Rule 50. Prompt Disposition

Scheduling preference must be given to criminal proceedings as far as practicable.

(As amended Apr. 24, 1972, eff. Oct. 1, 1972; Mar. 18, 1974, eff. July 1, 1974; Apr. 26 and July 8, 1976, eff. Aug. 1, 1976; Apr. 22, 1993, eff. Dec. 1, 1993; Apr. 29, 2002, eff. Dec. 1, 2002.)

Notes of Advisory Committee on Rules—1944

This rule is a restatement of the inherent residual power of the court over its own calendars, although as a matter of practice in most districts the assignment of criminal cases for trial is handled by the United States attorney. Cf. Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rules 40 and 78 [28 U.S.C., Appendix]. The direction that preference shall be given to criminal proceedings as far as practicable is generally recognized as desirable in the orderly administration of justice.

Notes of Advisory Committee on Rules—1972 Amendment

The addition to the rule proposed by subdivision (b) is designed to achieve the more prompt disposition of criminal cases.

Preventing undue delay in the administration of criminal justice has become an object of increasing interest and concern. This is reflected in the Congress. See, e.g., 116 Cong.Rec. S7291–97 (daily ed. May 18, 1970) (remarks of Senator Ervin). Bills have been introduced fixing specific time limits. See S. 3936, H.R. 14822, H.R. 15888, 91st Cong., 2d Sess. (1970).

Proposals for dealing with the problem of delay have also been made by the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice, Task Force Report: The Courts (1967) especially pp. 84–90, and by the American Bar Association Project on Standards for Criminal Justice, Standards Relating to Speedy Trial (Approved Draft, 1968). Both recommend specific time limits for each stage in the criminal process as the most effective way of achieving prompt disposition of criminal cases. See also Note, Nevada's 1967 Criminal Procedure Law from Arrest to Trial: One State's Response to a Widely Recognized Need, 1969 Utah L.Rev. 520, 542 no. 114.

Historically, the right to a speedy trial has been thought of as a protection for the defendant. Delay can cause a hardship to a defendant who is in custody awaiting trial. Even if afforded the opportunity for pretrial release, a defendant nonetheless is likely to suffer anxiety during a period of unwanted delay, and he runs the risk that his memory and those of his witnesses may suffer as time goes on.

Delay can also adversely affect the prosecution. Witnesses may lose interest or disappear or their memories may fade thus making them more vulnerable to cross-examination. See Note, The Right to a Speedy Criminal Trial, 57 Colum.L.Rev. 846 (1957).

There is also a larger public interest in the prompt disposition of criminal cases which may transcend the interest of the particular prosecutor, defense counsel, and defendant. Thus there is need to try to expedite criminal cases even when both prosecution and defense may be willing to agree to a continuance or continuances. It has long been said that it is the certain and prompt imposition of a criminal sanction rather than its severity that has a significant deterring effect upon potential criminal conduct. See Banfield and Anderson, Continuances in the Cook County Criminal Courts, 35 U.Chi.L.Rev. 259, 259–63 (1968).

Providing specific time limits for each stage of the criminal justice system is made difficult, particularly in federal courts, by the widely varying conditions which exist between the very busy urban districts on the one hand and the far less busy rural districts on the other hand. In the former, account must be taken of the extremely heavy caseload, and the prescription of relatively short time limits is realistic only if there is provided additional prosecutorial and judicial manpower. In some rural districts, the availability of a grand jury only twice a year makes unrealistic the provision of short time limits within which an indictment must be returned. This is not to say that prompt disposition of criminal cases cannot be achieved. It means only that the achieving of prompt disposition may require solutions which vary from district to district. Finding the best methods will require innovation and experimentation. To encourage this, the proposed draft mandates each district court to prepare a plan to achieve the prompt disposition of criminal cases in the district. The method prescribed for the development and approval of the district plans is comparable to that prescribed in the Jury Selection and Service Act of 1968, 28 U.S.C. §1863(a).

Each plan shall include rules which specify time limits and a means for reporting the status of criminal cases. The appropriate length of the time limits is left to the discretion of the individual district courts. This permits each district court to establish time limits that are appropriate in light of its criminal caseload, frequency of grand jury meetings, and any other factors which affect the progress of criminal actions. Where local conditions exist which contribute to delay, it is contemplated that appropriate efforts will be made to eliminate those conditions. For example, experience in some rural districts demonstrates that grand juries can be kept on call thus eliminating the grand jury as a cause for prolonged delay. Where manpower shortage is a major cause for delay, adequate solutions will require congressional action. But the development and analysis of the district plans should disclose where manpower shortages exist; how large the shortages are; and what is needed, in the way of additional manpower, to achieve the prompt disposition of criminal cases.

The district court plans must contain special provision for prompt disposition of cases in which there is reason to believe that the pretrial liberty of a defendant poses danger to himself, to any other person, or to the community. Prompt disposition of criminal cases may provide an alternative to the pretrial detention of potentially dangerous defendants. See 116 Cong.Rec. S7291–97 (daily ed. May 18, 1970) (remarks of Senator Ervin). Prompt disposition of criminal cases in which the defendant is held in pretrial detention would ensure that the deprivation of liberty prior to conviction would be minimized.

Approval of the original plan and any subsequent modification must be obtained from a reviewing panel made up of one judge from the district submitting the plan (either the chief judge or another active judge appointed by him) and the members of the judicial council of the circuit. The makeup of this reviewing panel is the same as that provided by the Jury Selection and Service Act of 1968, 28 U.S.C. §1863(a). This reviewing panel is also empowered to direct the modification of a district court plan.

The Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recently adopted a set of rules for the prompt disposition of criminal cases. See 8 Cr.L. 2251 (Jan. 13, 1971). These rules, effective July 5, 1971, provide time limits for the early trial of high risk defendants, for court control over the granting of continuances, for criteria to control continuance practice, and for sanction against the prosecution or defense in the event of noncompliance with prescribed time limits.

Notes of Advisory Committee on Rules—1974 Amendment

The amendment designates the first paragraph of Rule 50 as subdivision (a) entitled “Calendars,” in view of the recent addition of subdivision (b) to the rule.

Notes of Advisory Committee on Rules—1976 Amendment

This amendment to rule 50(b) takes account of the enactment of The Speedy Trial Act of 1974, 18 U.S.C. §§3152–3156, 3161–3174. As the various provisions of the Act take effect, see 18 U.S.C. §3163, they and the district plans adopted pursuant thereto will supplant the plans heretofore adopted under rule 50(b). The first such plan must be prepared and submitted by each district court before July 1, 1976. 18 U.S.C. §3165(e)(1).

That part of rule 50(b) which sets out the necessary contents of district plans has been deleted, as the somewhat different contents of the plans required by the Act are enumerated in 18 U.S.C. §3166. That part of rule 50(b) which describes the manner in which district plans are to be submitted, reviewed, modified and reported upon has also been deleted, for these provisions now appear in 18 U.S.C. §3165(c) and (d).

Notes of Advisory Committee on Rules—1993 Amendment

The Rule is amended to conform to the Judicial Improvements Act of 1990 [P.L. 101–650, Title III, Section 321] which provides that each United States magistrate appointed under section 631 of title 28, United States Code, shall be known as a United States magistrate judge.

Committee Notes on Rules—2002 Amendment

The language of Rule 50 has been amended as part of the general restyling of the Criminal Rules to make them more easily understood and to make style and terminology consistent throughout the rules. These changes are intended to be stylistic only, except as noted below.

The first sentence in current Rule 50(a), which says that a court may place criminal proceedings on a calendar, has been deleted. The Committee believed that the sentence simply stated a truism and was no longer necessary.

Current Rule 50(b), which simply mirrors 18 U.S.C. §3165, has been deleted in its entirety. The rule was added in 1971 to meet congressional concerns in pending legislation about deadlines in criminal cases. Provisions governing deadlines were later enacted by Congress and protections were provided in the Speedy Trial Act. The Committee concluded that in light of those enactments, Rule 50(b) was no longer necessary.

Effective Date of 1976 Amendment

Amendment of subd. (b) by the order of the United States Supreme Court of Apr. 26, 1976, effective Aug. 1, 1976, see section 1 of Pub. L. 94–349, July 8, 1976, 90 Stat. 822, set out as a note under section 2074 of Title 28, Judiciary and Judicial Procedure.

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