In a major setback to Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, a federal judge has denied her request to extend the January 13 deadline for a preliminary hearing, the date by which she has to be indicted.
Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York said adjournment of the date will not grant her the "relief she seeks" regarding plea negotiations between her and the government to resolve the visa fraud case.
An indictment or information charging the defendant with the commission of an offence must be filed within 30 days of the date of the defendant's arrest or service of a summons in connection with such charges, she said in her order.
Any adjournment of the preliminary hearing date will not have any impact on the filing of the indictment.
"The defendant has requested only that the preliminary date be adjourned for 30 days for good cause shown... Because a modification of the hearing date will not itself alter the time period for the filing of an indictment or information, the defendant's concerns regarding the pressures of an impending indictment on plea negotiations will not grant her the relief she seeks."
"Therefore, good cause has not been demonstrated, and the defendant's request for an adjournment of the preliminary hearing date is Denied," Netburn said in her three-page order issued late yesterday.
She said since Khobragade was arrested on December 12, 2013, she "must be indicted (or an information by the government must be filed against her)" by January 13.
"Therefore, an extension of the preliminary hearing date ...will not relieve the pressure identified by the defendant. Moreover, the defendant cannot extend Speedy Trial time limits merely by filing a waiver." "The Speedy Trial Act is not solely a protection for the defendant," Netburn said in her judgement, " it is also designed to serve the public's interest in a speedy trial of those charged with federal criminal offences." The order means the indictment against Khobragade will now have to filed before or on January 13.
Her lawyer Daniel Arshack had sought postponement of the preliminary hearing date and extension of the indictment deadline by 30 days "to and including February 12, 2014". He had said that the extension is being sought in order to facilitate the plea discussions that have been ongoing between his office and Khobragade.
Netburn ruled that "an adjournment of the preliminary hearing date will not grant the defendant the relief she (Khobragade) seeks."
A 1999-batch IFS officer, Khobragade was arrested on charges of making false declarations in a visa application for her maid Sangeeta Richard. She was released on a USD 250,000 bond.