Com. v. Hudson

Decision Date09 March 1989
Citation404 Mass. 282,535 N.E.2d 208
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH v. Timmy HUDSON.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

Corinne Hirsch, Asst. Dist. Atty., for the Com.

Patricia A. O'Neill, Committee for Public Counsel Services, for defendant.

Before WILKINS, LIACOS, NOLAN, LYNCH and O'CONNOR, JJ.

LYNCH, Justice.

On November 15, 1985, the defendant, Timmy Hudson, was arrested for allegedly stealing a radio, priced at $199.88, from a retail store in Watertown. He was charged with larceny of property exceeding $100 in value, in violation of G.L. c. 266, § 30, which was then a felony. 1 On January 29, 1986, the defendant moved to dismiss the complaint on the ground that the larceny statute no longer applied to offenses involving the theft of merchandise offered for sale. 2 After a hearing, the judge allowed the motion and dismissed the complaint. 3 The Commonwealth appealed on January 31, 1986. The appeal was not entered in the Appeals Court until March 4, 1988. On June 15, 1988, the defendant moved to dismiss the Commonwealth's appeal, arguing that the Commonwealth's excessive delay in pursuing this appeal violates the defendant's right to due process. We transferred the matter to this court on our own motion.

1. Appellate procedure. This appeal was not entered in the Appeals Court for more than two years after the notice of appeal was filed. The Commonwealth seeks to explain, or justify, this delay by reciting the difficulties encountered in preparing the transcript. This transcript, which occasioned such inordinate delay and which was prepared by the Commonwealth's own staff, consists of nineteen pages and is unnecessary to a proper decision on the issue raised. Although there has been no apparent violation of any specific provision of the Massachusetts Rules of Appellate Procedure, and none is argued, it is clear that the glacial pace with which this case proceeded toward appellate resolution is not what is contemplated by the rules of appellate procedure. Prompt action of the parties, and stipulations to eliminate unnecessary documents from the record on appeal, are clearly what the rules contemplate. Neither is present in this case.

2. Motion to dismiss appeal. The defendant argues that the "sheer length of the delay" by the Commonwealth in pursuing its appeal violates his right to due process. 4 We disagree. "The guaranty of a speedy trial set forth in the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution (and art. 11 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights) is not read as applying to the appellate process." Commonwealth v. Lee, 394 Mass. 209, 220, 475 N.E.2d 363 (1985). See Commonwealth v. Weichel, 403 Mass. 103, 109, 526 N.E.2d 760 (1988). "However, we have recognized on several occasions that 'deliberate blocking of appellate rights or inordinate and prejudicial delay ... may rise to the level of constitutional error.' " Id., quoting Commonwealth v. Swenson 368 Mass. 268, 279-280, 331 N.E.2d 893 (1975). See Commonwealth v. Thomas, 400 Mass. 676, 684, 511 N.E.2d 1095 (1987); Commonwealth v. Lee, supra; Williams, petitioner, 378 Mass. 623, 625, 393 N.E.2d 353 (1979).

Here, the defendant points to no evidence nor makes any argument that the Commonwealth deliberately delayed the appeal. "Thus, to prevail on his constitutional due process argument, the defendant must show that the delay, which was clearly inordinate, was significantly prejudicial." Commonwealth v. Weichel, supra 403 Mass. at 109, 526 N.E.2d 760. Because the defendant has failed to produce any evidence or make any argument that his "ability to present ... arguments on appeal [has been] adversely affected by the passage of time" his due process argument fails. 5 Id.

3. Implied repeal. The Commonwealth argues that the judge erred in dismissing the complaint charging the defendant with larceny, G.L. c. 266, § 30(1), because the shoplifting statute, G.L. c. 266, § 30A, did not repeal the larceny statute as it relates to the theft of merchandise offered for sale. 6 We agree, and therefore vacate the order of dismissal.

The defendant's argument, apparently adopted by the judge, is that, because both the larceny and shoplifting statutes prohibit the same conduct in some instances, the subsequent shoplifting statute impliedly repealed the application of the general larceny statute to conduct punishable under the shoplifting statute, G.L. c. 266, § 30A.

"Where two statutes deal with the same subject they should be interpreted harmoniously to effectuate a consistent body of law." Boston Hous. Auth. v. Labor Relations Comm'n, 398 Mass. 715, 718, 500 N.E.2d 802 (1986), and cases cited. We note, moreover, the well-settled principle that there is a "very strong presumption against implied repeal." Commonwealth v. Jones, 382 Mass. 387, 391, 416 N.E.2d 502 (1981). See Commonwealth v. Hayes, 372 Mass. 505, 511, 362 N.E.2d 905 (1977), quoting Commonwealth v. Bloomberg, 302 Mass. 349, 352, 19 N.E.2d 62 (1939). 1A C. Sands, Sutherland Statutory Construction § 23.10, at 346-347 (4th ed. 1985). The effect of this presumption is that "[t]he doctrine of implied repeal does not mandate repeal of the earlier statute unless it is 'so repugnant to and inconsistent with the later enactment covering the same subject matter that both cannot stand.' " Boston Hous. Auth. v. Labor Relations Comm'n, supra 398 Mass. at 718, 500 N.E.2d 802, quoting Doherty v. Commissioner of Admin., 349 Mass. 687, 690, 212 N.E.2d 485 (1965). See Chernick v. Chief Admin. Justice of the Trial Court, 395 Mass. 484, 487, 480 N.E.2d 639 (1985); North Shore Vocational Regional School Dist. v. Salem, 393 Mass. 354, 358, 471 N.E.2d 104 (1984); Boston v. Board of Educ., 392 Mass. 788, 792, 467 N.E.2d 1318 (1984). "The fact that two statutes overlap in the sense that they both prohibit the same act does not, without more, make them conflicting." 1A C. Sands, Sutherland Statutory Construction § 23.09, at 332 (4th ed. 1985). However, "[i]f a general statute and a specific statute cannot be reconciled, the general statute must yield to the specific statute," especially if "the specific statute was enacted after the general statute." Pereira v. New England LNG Co., 364 Mass. 109, 118, 301 N.E.2d 441 (1973). Grass v. Catamount Dev. Corp., 390 Mass. 551, 554, 457 N.E.2d 627 (1983).

Applying these principles to the statutes before us, we conclude that the relevant portions of the statutes are complementary and not inconsistent. General Laws c. 266, § 30A, facilitates the apprehension and prosecution of shoplifters by providing law enforcement officials with alternative offenses and penalties. General Laws c. 266, § 30A, not only prohibits the type of conduct alleged here, but also prohibits conduct which may be difficult to prosecute under the larceny statute, including concealing merchandise, altering price tags, transferring merchandise to a different container, and recording a value for merchandise which is less than the actual retail value. The statute further facilitates apprehension by providing that the statements by merchants that a person has violated the statute constitutes probable cause for arrest.

It should also be noted that the defendant's theory of repeal produces illogical results. For example, if repeal is implied, an individual stealing merchandise worth several thousand dollars from a retail store would be subject only to a fine for both a first or second offense, see G.L. c. 266, § 30A, while an individual stealing the same property from someone or some place other than a retail store could be subject to imprisonment in the State prison for up to five years. G.L. c. 266, § 30. It would be unreasonable to assume that, by enacting the shoplifting statute, the Legislature intended that a person who steals a fur coat receives no greater maximum penalty than a person who steals a package of candy. Compare Commonwealth v. Murray, 401 Mass. 771, 774-775, 519 N.E.2d 1293 (1988).

The Legislature amended the false arrest statute, G.L. c. 231, § 94B, in the same act that adopted the shoplifting statute. St.1981, c. 618. That amendment added the crime of shoplifting to the statute that had previously provided that a merchant's reasonable belief that a person had committed larceny of goods offered for sale was a defense to a false arrest action. 7 Amending the statute in this manner would make no sense if the Legislature had intended to repeal the larceny statute as it relates to the theft of goods for sale. Because the shoplifting and larceny statutes can be harmoniously construed as providing the Commonwealth with prosecution alternatives that correspond with the seriousness of a particular theft, the strong presumption against implied repeal has not been overcome. 8

The fact that the same conduct could be prosecuted under two statutes, each with different maximum penalties does not violate the notice requirements of due process. In another context, we have stated: "Although the statutes create uncertainty as to which crime may be charged and therefore what penalties may be imposed, they do so to no greater extent than would a single statute authorizing various alternative punishments. So long as overlapping criminal provisions clearly define the conduct prohibited and the punishment authorized, the notice requirements of the Due Process Clause are satisfied." Commonwealth v. John G. Grant & Sons, 403 Mass. 151, 156, 526 N.E.2d 768 (1988), quoting United States v. Batchelder, 442 U.S. 114, 123, 99 S.Ct. 2198, 2204, 60 L.Ed.2d 755 (1979). Cedeno v. Commonwealth, 404 Mass. 190, 196, 534 N.E.2d 293 (1989). Here, it is clear that both statutes define the prohibited conduct. In fact, the defendant concedes that, if the larceny statute remains in effect, it would apply to his alleged conduct. The Commonwealth's discretion to choose between two statutes when prosecuting an individual does not violate either the due process clause...

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