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The Speedy Trial Clock Keeps Ticking Even After Judicial Dismissal of a Complaint

Joseph Coupal - Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Every criminal defendant is entitled to a “speedy trial.” Under Rule 36 of the Massachusetts Rules of Criminal Procedure, if the Commonwealth fails to try a criminal defendant within 12 months of his or her arraignment, the defendant is entitled to a dismissal of the charges.  What seems like a relatively simple calculation, however, is complicated by the fact that certain delays are excused and not included in speedy trial calculations. A delay may be excused if it falls into one of the many excludable periods under rule 36 (b)(2) or if the defendant acquiesced, benefited from, or was responsible for the delay. The vast number of excused delays can result in cases taking well over a year to get to trial without violating a defendants’ rights to speedy trials.  These excludable periods allow the Commonwealth to stop the clock, so to speak, because they are not included in the 12 month calculation.  In fact, the Commonwealth can file a document called a nolle prosequi, which results in the dismissal a charge against a defendant, and later refile the exact same charge again without the time in-between being included in the speedy trial calculation.  These delays can be incredibly frustrating and seemingly endless to criminal defendants seeking their day in court. In the recent case, Commonwealth v. Denehy, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that where the Commonwealth was not ready for trial and the case was dismissed, the time between the dismissal and re-issuance of the same charges was not excludable under Rule 36.  In this case, a defendant was arraigned and charged with assault and battery, disorderly conduct, and assault by means of a dangerous weapon on August 21, 2008.  Due to court congestion and continuances by the parties, the case was continued for almost two years.  On May 5, 2010, the case was scheduled for trial for the third time.  Because the Commonwealth was unable to proceed because an essential witness was absent, the trial judge granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss.  Over three months later, on August 12, 2010 the defendant was arraigned on identical charges.  He was eventually tried and found guilty on May 9, 2011.  On appeal, the Supreme Judicial Court vacated defendant’s conviction and ruled that Rule 36 only stopped the clock for dismissals following the filing nolle prosequi’s, not judicial dismissals.  In this case, the complaint was dismissed by the judge at the request of the defendant because the Commonwealth was unprepared.  As a result, any delay following the dismissal and subsequent re-arraignment is included in the speedy trial calculation.  The Court concluded that fourteen days beyond the 12-month limit could not be excluded under the various exceptions in the rule, so the defendant was entitled to dismissal of the complaint with prejudice.  The case may be viewed here. The Court noted the importance of defense counsel objecting to continuances and raising speedy trial issues at trial.  Case management can be complicated.  Make sure your criminal defense attorney knows how to protect your rights.  Call Brooks & Crowley LLP today at 781-251-0555.

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