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The Right to a Speedy Trial in Massachusetts

prisonIn a recent Massachusetts assault case, the appellate court considered aggravated rape and armed assault with intent to murder. DNA evidence connected the defendant to the case.

In 2010, an arrest warrant was issued for the defendant. He was indicted as a youthful offender. However, he filed a motion to dismiss the indictments for a failure to hold a probable cause hearing. A judge dismissed the case, and the Commonwealth appealed. The appeal was dismissed. However, a delinquency complaint was sought in Juvenile Court. The defendant was arraigned for aggravated rape and armed assault with intent to murder. When probable cause was determined, the case was transferred to the adult court system.

The defendant was indicted for aggravated rape and armed assault with intent to murder. His new attorney was appointed. At the trial, the jury couldn’t come to a decision about aggravated rape, and a mistrial was declared. However, the defendant was acquitted of the charge for armed assault with intent to murder. He was tried again and convicted.

He appealed, arguing that his right to a speedy trial was violated. The appellate court reasoned that it wasn’t clear whether he was arguing for his rights under the Sixth Amendment or under Massachusetts Rule of Criminal Procedure 36, 378. It found that his rights hadn’t been violated in either case.

Under Mass.R.Crim.P. 36(c), a defendant needs to prove a prosecutor didn’t use reasonable diligence to bring a defendant to trial and that its lack of diligence caused prejudice to the defendant. In this case, the defendant argued that he was prejudiced because of the delay related to the youthful offender charge and that the prosecutor had acted in bad faith. Under M.G.L. c. 119, ยง 54, the Commonwealth can proceed by indictment against someone who is 14-18 on charges that would be punishable by state prison imprisonment if the offense involves causing or threatening serious and illegal bodily harm.

In one case decided after the indictment in this case, the Supreme Judicial Court found a code section trumped the youthful offender law when a defendant perpetrates a crime between the ages of 14 and 17 and isn’t apprehended until after he turns 18. The appellate court found that the lower court’s inability to anticipate this ruling couldn’t result in a finding of bad faith by the prosecution under section 54.

The appellate court also reasoned that the defendant hadn’t shown real prejudice caused by the delay. To show a delay resulted in prejudice, a judge determines the interests that the right to a speedy trial is designed to protect. This includes a limitation of the possibility that a particular defense will be adversely affected. In this case, the defendant suggested that if a section 72A hearing had gone forward on the youthful offender indictments, his matter would have been resolved prior to his becoming eligible for parole on a different matter. The Commonwealth argued that the facts of the aggravated rape charge would have been available to the parole board even if the charge was pending or had been resolved with a conviction.

To show actual prejudice, the defendant would have had to be able to claim that witnesses were unavailable due to a delay or that other evidence was lost. Since there was no evidence presented, the appellate court considered the elements of a fair trial were available, and the impairment to the defense was at best speculative.

The defendant also argued he shouldn’t have been incarcerated for so long while waiting for trial. The appellate court found this argument was not enough, since he hadn’t claimed his case was impaired. It further found that under the Constitution, the court had to balance the factors related to the delay to determine whether the right to a speedy trial had been denied. The factors included how long the delay was, whether the defendant asserted a right to a speedy trial, and the prejudice, if any, to him. In this case, the factors weighed against the defendant, and the judgment was affirmed.

If you are charged in Massachusetts with an assault crime, contact the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy today to discuss the criminal charges. Call us at 617-367-0450 or contact us through this website.

More Blog Posts:

Assault and Battery Causing Serious Injury in Massachusetts, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published January 14, 2015

Receiving Stolen Property in Massachusetts, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published December 15, 2014