The BC Court of Appeal has dismissed a challenge from a former Nelson lawyer and university professor who said his right to a speedy trial was violated.
In one of the city’s longest-running legal sagas, Marvin Singleton, now 80, was convicted of stealing nearly half a million dollars from an estate of which he was executor during the 1980s and sentenced to three years in prison.
He asked for a stay of proceedings based on the argument that he was denied a trial within a reasonable time because police stopped looking for him for four years. Singleton, who was eventually arrested in Kansas in 2004, where he taught part-time at a community college, claimed he was not trying to hide.
However, the judge ruled any delays in the case were largely of his own making and the appeal court this week unanimously upheld that decision.
“In effect, he says he was there to be found, and would have been found had the police tried harder,” Justice David Frankel wrote for the three-member panel. “It cannot be said that the police failed to act with reasonable diligence. Attempting to locate someone in a country as vast as the United States without any idea of where to look is akin to trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack.”
The appeal court said the trial judge erred in ruling that once Singleton became aware of the charges it was his responsibility to return to Canada, but still concluded she was correct in not attributing the four-year delay to the Crown.
Singleton, who taught at Notre Dame University in Nelson in the 1970s, and became a lawyer after the school closed, moved to Texas in 1993. Four years later, charges of fraud and theft were laid against him over the estate of John George Alexander, and a warrant issued for his arrest. Singleton was aware of the charges by mid-1998.
However, when RCMP enquired with authorities in Texas, they learned he had left the area and his whereabouts were unknown. Consequently, investigators gave the file a low priority and turned their attention to another matter.
They returned to Singleton’s case four years later and tracked down his daughter, who provided them with a Kansas address. However, it took another two years before Singleton was finally arrested and he then spent a further two years in a US prison unsuccessfully fighting extradition.
He returned to Canada in 2006 and following a series of motions, appeals, and delays, finally stood trial in 2009. He was convicted the following year.
Singleton also claimed his declining cognitive abilities hurt his ability to defend himself. However, the appeal court noted that the trial judge observed him testifying for 10 days and found him “very able to participate in his trial to the extent necessary to mount a detailed and comprehensive defense with the assistance of able counsel.”
Justice Frankel also wrote that “following his arrest in mid-August 2004 and for several years thereafter, Mr. Singleton had no interest in a trial, timely or otherwise … I have difficulty accepting that someone who, but for his own actions, likely would have come to trial in late 2006, can seek to avoid being tried three years later due to a decline in cognitive abilities that did not meaningfully affect his ability to defend himself.”
The BC Law Society reimbursed the beneficiaries of the estate Singleton stole from through a special compensation fund. The society also compensated a second estate Singleton handled, although charges in that case were dropped.
The full judgement can be found here.