Both the Oregonian and Oregon Public Broadcasting are reporting that lawyers in the Mohamed Mohamud case asked for a trial delay of 13 months, with the trial to start in February 2012. District Judge King didn't sound like he approved of that delay, but either way, it looks like the trial will be pushed off from its original February 2011 date, because he set a status conference for May 2011 to see how things are proceeding.
The Sixth Amendment states in relevant part "[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial." 18 USC 3161 sets forth the actual time limits, with trial to begin within 70 days of the filing of the indictment or the arraignment, whichever comes later. 18 USC 3161(c)(1).
February 2012 is way more than 70 days from early December, when Mohamud was arraigned, so in order to push the trial off that far -- or even into this summer, following the May status conference -- the court must "exclude" time, which means that time will not be counted against the 70 day clock. 18 USC 3161(h) provides a number of bases from which a court can do so, ranging from time evaluating the defendant's mental capacity to time when the defendant or essential witnesses are unavailable to time for the defendant to demonstrate good character. The most important basis for excluding time is found in 18 USC 3161(h)(7):
(A) Any period of delay resulting from a continuance granted by any judge on his own motion or at the request of the defendant or his counsel or at the request of the attorney for the Government, if the judge granted such continuance on the basis of his findings that the ends of justice served by taking such action outweigh the best interest of the public and the defendant in a speedy trial. No such period of delay resulting from a continuance granted by the court in accordance with this paragraph shall be excludable under this subsection unless the court sets forth, in the record of the case, either orally or in writing, its reasons for finding that the ends of justice served by the granting of such continuance outweigh the best interests of the public and the defendant in a speedy trial.
(B) The factors, among others, which a judge shall consider in determining whether to grant a continuance under subparagraph (A) of this paragraph in any case are as follows:
(i) Whether the failure to grant such a continuance in the proceeding would be likely to make a continuation of such proceeding impossible, or result in a miscarriage of justice.
(ii) Whether the case is so unusual or so complex, due to the number of defendants, the nature of the prosecution, or the existence of novel questions of fact or law, that it is unreasonable to expect adequate preparation for pretrial proceedings or for the trial itself within the time limits established by this section.
(iii) Whether, in a case in which arrest precedes indictment, delay in the filing of the indictment is caused because the arrest occurs at a time such that it is unreasonable to expect return and filing of the indictment within the period specified in section 3161 (b), or because the facts upon which the grand jury must base its determination are unusual or complex.
(iv) Whether the failure to grant such a continuance in a case which, taken as a whole, is not so unusual or so complex as to fall within clause (ii), would deny the defendant reasonable time to obtain counsel, would unreasonably deny the defendant or the Government continuity of counsel, or would deny counsel for the defendant or the attorney for the Government the reasonable time necessary for effective preparation, taking into account the exercise of due diligence.
It sounds like the lawyers made enough of a case that this prosecution will be complex enough to require additional time to prepare properly. The OPB report notes:
The trial is expected to incorporate facts gathered under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, as well as some classified intelligence.
FISA is involved because the initial search warrant that government agents used to access Mohamud's emails was apparently a FISA warrant, which differs from a regular criminal search warrant in that the government need not show probable cause that a crime has been or is being committed. Rather, FISA allows the government to get a search warrant where a significant purpose is for foreign intelligence gathering, and where the target of the surveillance is a "foreign power" or "an agent of a foreign power." 50 USC 1804(a)(4).
There will be presumably be litigation over whether the FISA warrant was indeed valid, and in particular, whether foreign intelligence gathering -- as opposed to law enforcement -- was a significant purpose behind the warrant. (It's possible that both purposes existed; this is partly a consequence of the USA PATRIOT Act's lowering of "the Wall" between intelligence and law enforcement agents. Prior to the PATRIOT Act's amendments, the statute required that the "primary" purpose be for intelligence gathering.)
The fact that there is classified information further complicates matters. It used to be that relevant classified information put the government in a potential dilemma: either disclose the information or risk having the court throw out the case because the defendant was being denied relevant evidence. The Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA) ameliorates this problem to some extent by permitting the government, in appropriate circumstances, to provide a "substitution" in place of the actual classified information. The substitution, if accepted by the court, would provide the defendant with the relevant information without disclosing the underlying evidence, which might protect sources and methods.
However, litigation can ensure over the adequacy of the substitutions. One of the reasons (though far from the only reason) that accused 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui's trial took so long to start was due to the process of crafting substitutions that met the district judge's approval. Moussaoui was arraigned in early 2002 but did not proceed to trial until mid 2005, when he pleaded guilty and went straight to the capital penalty phase. (Full timeline here)
Of course, declassification avoids these issues of substitutions, but it takes time to declassify materials, so that would be another source of delay.