Com. v. Fields

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Writing for the CourtBefore HENNESSEY; LIACOS
Citation371 Mass. 274,356 N.E.2d 1211
Decision Date03 November 1976
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH v. Clarence R. FIELDS.

Page 1211

356 N.E.2d 1211
371 Mass. 274
Clarence R. FIELDS.
Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Barnstable.
Argued June 7, 1976.
Decided Nov. 3, 1976.

Page 1212

Richard S. Goldstein, Boston, for defendant.

Francis E. Scheele, Asst. Dist. Atty., for the Commonwealth.


LIACOS, Justice.

Fields was found guilty of armed robbery (G.L. c. 265, § 17) on May 15, 1972, by a jury after a trial in the Superior Court. He was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of eight to twelve years. His appeal--which has involved a rather complex procedural history 1--is [371 Mass. 275] now before us pursuant to G.L. c. 278, §§ 33A--33G.

The question presented on appeal is whether a defendant may be indicted and tried for armed robbery in the Superior Court after a District Court judge acting under the provisions of G.L. c. 277, § 72A, has dismissed a complaint charging the same crime. 2 We conclude that a dismissal in the District Court on the basis of G.L. c. 277, § 72A, operates as bar to subsequent prosecution for the same crime in the Superior Court. Accordingly, Fields's conviction must be vacated.

Our disposition of the case necessitates a summary of the events from the time Fields was first charged with armed robbery until he was tried in the Superior Court. On May 20, 1970, Fields was complained of in the Second District Court of Barnstable for armed robbery (G.L. c. 265, § 17) and larceny (G.L. c. 266, § 30) for events which took place on May 6, 1970. On April 7, 1971, Fields, who was incarcerated at the Massachusetts Correctional [371 Mass. 276] Institutional at Concord on unrelated charges, made an application to the District Court under G.L. c. 277, § 72A. He also filed a pro se request for a

Page 1213

speedy trial. On December 28, 1971, the armed robbery and larceny complaints were dismissed by a Distrit Court judge, pursuant to the provisions of § 72A. It appears that no action--either judicial or prosecutorial--had been taken on the complaints during the more than eight months that had elapsed since Fields applied under § 72A, or, for that matter, during the nineteen months the complaints were pending in the District Court.

In April, 1972, about four months after the complaints were dismissed, Fields was indicted for armed robbery by a grand jury on the basis of the events of May 6, 1970. One month later (on May 11, 1972) Fields was brought to trial on the indictment. Before a jury was empanelled, Fields's attorney made an oral motion that the indictment be dismissed on speedy trial grounds. After brief oral presentation by both sides, the trial judge denied the motion. 3 [371 Mass. 277] Fields's attorney did not take an exception to this ruling. 4

1. A defendant in a criminal case has no right to have appellate review of an alleged error in the conduct of his trial unless that error is based on a proper exception. Commonwealth v. Concepcion, 362 Mass. 653, 654, 290 N.E.2d 514 (1972). Commonwealth v. Underwood, 358 Mass. 506, 509, 265 N.E.2d 577 (1970). Commonwealth v. Foley, 358 Mass. 233, 236, 263 N.E.2d 451 (1970). Commonwealth v. Myers, 356 Mass. 343, 346, 252 N.E.2d 350 (1969). However, in an appropriate case, as a matter of discretion, we may consider an error at trial not brought to us by an exception. Commonwealth v. Freeman, 352 Mass. 556, 563--564, 227 N.E.2d 3 (1967). See Commonwealth v. Franks, 365 Mass. 74, 82, 309 N.E.2d 879 (1974); Commonwealth v. Conroy, 333 Mass. 751, 757, 133 N.E.2d 246 (1956). Although we have been asked with increasing frequency to use this power as a basis to reverse convictions, see Commonwealth v. Foley, supra 358 Mass. at 236, 263 N.E.2d 451, '(t)his power has been sparingly used.' Commonwealth v. Myers, supra 356 Mass. at 347, 252 N.E.2d at 352. 5 We shall consider an error not execpted to at trial 'only in the rare case, where 'there is a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice'

Page 1214

. . ..' COMMONWEALTH V. LEAVY, --- MASS. ---, 339 N.E.2D 923 (1976)A, quoting from Commonwealth v. Freeman, 352 Mass. 556, 564, 227 N.E.2d 3, 9 (1967).

Fields argues, and we agree, that this is such a case. It is difficult to conceive of a case in which the denial of appellate review could involve a more substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice. Cf. Commonwealth v. Franks, supra, 365 Mass. [371 Mass. 278] at 82, 309 N.E.2d 879 (defendant apparently sentenced for a crime other than the one for which he was convicted); Commonwealth v. Freeman, supra, 352 Mass. at 562--564, 227 N.E.2d 3 (improper charge on admissions by silence). The error claimed here is not limited to an isolated piece of evidence (cf. Commonwealth v. Concepcion, 362 Mass. 653, 654--655, 290 N.E.2d 514 (1972)), testimony (cf. Commonwealth v. Richards, 363 Mass. 299, 310, 293 N.E.2d 854 (1973); Commonwealth v. Myers, 356 Mass. 343, 346, 252 N.E.2d 350 (1969)), or argument (cf. Commonwealth v. Balakin, 356 Mass. 547, 551, 254 N.E.2d 422 (1969)), or to a few confusing lines in a jury instruction (cf. Commonwealth v. Blackburn, 354 Mass. 200, 205, 237 N.E.2d 35 (1968)). Rather, the error relates to whether trial was appropriate at all after the District Court judge's dismissal of the charges. 6 In such a case we are confident that we should exercise our power under Commonwealth v. Freeman, 352 Mass. 556, 227 N.E.2d 3 (1967). This court has indicated previously that it 'has and will exercise the power to set aside a verdict or finding in order to prevent a miscarriage of justice when a decisive matter has not been raised at the trial' (emphasis supplied). Commonwealth v. Conroy, 333 Mass. 751, 757, 133 N.E.2d 246, 250 (1956).

2. General Laws c. 277, § 72A, as appearing in St.1965, c. 343, 7 'establishes a priority for (the) trials of defendants who are [371 Mass. 279] already in custody.' Commonwealth v. Boyd, --- Mass. ---, ---, b 326 N.E.2d 320 (1975).

We have indicated previously that this statute is to be viewed as a 'warrant removal' or detainer removal statute which 'furnishes a ready method for inmates to accelerate action on possible further impediments to their freedom.' As such, this statute 'bespeaks a clear legislative intention to expedite prosecution of charges already brought.' Commonwealth v. Gove, --- Mass. ---, ---, c 320 N.E.2d 900, 904 (1974). See also Commonwealth v. Lauria, 359 Mass. 168, 171, 268 N.E.2d 363 (1971).

Page 1215

This statutory right is a right distinct from that which may arise under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution or under art. 11 of our Declaration of Rights. See Commonwealth v. McGrath, 348 Mass. 748, 750, 205 N.E.2d 710 (1965). See also COMMONWEALTH V. GOVE, --- MASS. ---, 320 N.E.2D 900 (1974)D. 'Although it may be supposed that the statute's purpose was to assist in the implementation of the right to speedy trial guaranteed by art. 11 of the Declaration of Rights and by the Sixth (by reason of the Fourteenth) Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the provision is curious in the sense that the right accorded to a defendant turns almost exclusively on delay, which is but one of the several factors which must be considered in determining whether a defendant has been deprived of the constitutional right.' Commonwealth v. Gove, 1 Mass.App. 614, 618, 304 N.E.2d 589, 591 (1973), aff'd on other grounds, --- Mass. ---, e 320 N.E.2d 900 (1974). A violation of the statutory right may be relevant to a consideration of a claim of denial of the constitutional right to a speedy trial, cf. Commonwealth v. Ludwig, --- Mas. ---, ---n.1, f 345 N.E.2d 386 (1976), but the constitutional question need not be [371 Mass. 280] reached should the statutory claim be resolved in favor of the defendant, as is here the case. General Laws c. 277, § 72A, does not set forth the 'consequence of a failure to comply with its provisions,' Commonwealth v. Gove, supra 1 Mass.App. at 619, 304 N.E.2d at 592, but it does direct that 'within six months after . . . (an) application is received by the court' there shall be a 'trial or other disposition of any . . . (pending) indictment, information or complaint, unless the court shall otherwise order.'

While the occurrence of a trial within the statutory period obviously satisfies the statutory mandate, COMMONWEALTH V. DAGGETT, --- MASS. ---, 343 N.E.2D 409 (1976)G; see Commonwealth v. Parry, 1 Mass.App. ---, --- n.4, h 306 N.E.2d 855 (1974), our prior decisions have made clear that this statute creates no per se rule requiring an immediate trial on application properly made thereunder. See Commonwealth v. Daggett, supra --- Mass. at ---, i 343 N.E.2d 409, pointing out that the statutory language itself allows a trial judge to make other orders pertaining to the disposition or continuance of the case. Thus, the trial judge may made an order granting a continuance beyond the statutory six-month period where such a delay appears reasonably necessary and justifiable....

To continue reading

Request your trial
24 cases
  • State v. Frazier, s. 94
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • 1 Septiembre 1982
    ...1336, 1339 (1978); State v. Driever, 347 So.2d 1132, 1134 (La.1977); State v. Wells, 443 A.2d 60, 63 (Me.1982); Commonwealth v. Fields, 371 Mass. 274, 279, 356 N.E.2d 1211, 1215 (1976); State v. Alvarez, 189 Neb. 281, 291, 202 N.W.2d 604, 610 (1972); State v. Pachay, 64 Ohio St.2d 218, 221,......
  • Com. v. Campbell
    • United States
    • Appeals Court of Massachusetts
    • 10 Agosto 1977 the court. Commonwealth v. Loftis, 361 Mass. 545, 549, 281 N.E.2d 258 (1972); Commonwealth v. Fields, --- Mass. ----, ---- d, 356 N.E.2d 1211 (1976). Commonwealth v. Alexander, --- Mass. ---- e, 359 N.E.2d 306 (1977). Commonwealth v. Ambers, --- Mass.App. ----, ---- f, 357 N.E.2d 323 (19......
  • State v. Pachay, 80-393
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Ohio
    • 23 Diciembre 1980
    ...v. Lindsay (1975), 96 Idaho 474, 531 P.2d 236; People v. Sibley (1976), 41 Ill.App.3d 616, 354 N.E.2d 442; Commonwealth v. Fields (1976), 371 Mass. 274, 356 N.E.2d 1211; Faulk v. State (1977), 261 Ark. 543, 551 S.W.2d 194; State v. Driever (La.1977), 347 So.2d 1132; State v. Lacy (W.Va.1977......
  • Com. v. Goulet
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • 16 Febrero 1978
    ...the law regarding insanity was misstated, the convictions should be reversed."); Commonwealth v. Fields, --- Mass. ---, --- - --- g, 356 N.E.2d 1211 (1976); Commonwealth v. Conroy, 333 Mass. 751, 756-757, 133 N.E.2d 246 (1956). In the very McHoul case, involving lesser crimes than murder, w......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT