Com. v. Lewis

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Writing for the CourtBefore HENNESSEY; KAPLAN; On motions of the defendants in these cases to dismiss the indictments
Citation409 N.E.2d 771,381 Mass. 411
Decision Date29 August 1980
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH v. Randolph LEWIS & three companion cases 1 (and a consolidated case 2 ).

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409 N.E.2d 771
381 Mass. 411
COMMONWEALTH

v.
Randolph LEWIS & three companion cases 1 (and
a consolidated case 2).
Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk.
Argued May 6, 1980.
Decided Aug. 29, 1980.

Reuben Dawkins, Boston, for Linnell T. Young.

Roger Witkin and Susan M. Roberts, Boston, for Tyrone Layton.

Robert F. Muse, Boston (Mary Beatty Muse, Boston, with him), for Lanier W. Phillips, Jr.

John F. Herlihy, Jr., Boston, for Darrell Weaver and Kenneth L. Sullivan, Fall River, for Randolph Lewis, joined in a brief.

[381 Mass. 412] Michael J. Traft and Thomas J. Mundy, Jr., Asst. Dist. Attys., for the Commonwealth.

Before [381 Mass. 411] HENNESSEY, C. J., and KAPLAN, WILKINS, LIACOS and ABRAMS, JJ.

[381 Mass. 412] KAPLAN, Justice.

The indictments for the homicides in the present cases would fail if a "year and a day" rule were applied, since in each of the

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cases the victim died more than that period of time after the criminal act. More particularly: In Commonwealth v. Randolph Lewis and three companion cases, the defendants were indicted on September 8, 1978, for the murder of Richard Poleet, death having occurred on May 30, 1978, as a result, so the Commonwealth claimed, of the defendants' assault upon him on April 19, 1976. (Two of the defendants had been found guilty on May 4, 1977, of other crimes arising from the same incident.) 3 In the consolidated case, Commonwealth v. Lanier W. Phillips, Jr., the assault occurred on October 22, 1977, the victim Daniel Mark Duffault died on April 27, 1979, and indictment for murder was handed up on June 13, 1979.

On motions of the defendants in these cases to dismiss the indictments, judges of the Superior Court rendered reports which inquired, in effect, whether the prosecutions might lawfully be maintained. The reports were to be expected, and are appropriate, as severe doubts about the modern day justification for the year and a day rule were expressed by us in the recent case of Commonwealth v. Golston, 373 Mass. 249, 366 N.E.2d 744 (1977), cert. denied, 434 U.S. 1039, 98 S.Ct. 777, 54 L.Ed.2d 788 (1978). 4

[381 Mass. 413] Any discussion of the subject begins with the antique statute 6 Edw. 1, c. 9 (1278), which declares as to the private form of prosecution for murder called "appeal," 5 that it shall not be abated so soon as it has been heretofore; but if the appellor declare the "Deed" and the time when it was done, and with what weapon the victim was slain, the appeal shall stand and not abate "if the Party shall sue within the Year and the Day after the Deed done." 6 "Deed" was read as meaning the death, not the act of assault leading to the death, and evidently it was from the date of the death that the period was measured. See the discussion in Commonwealth v. Ladd, 402 Pa. 164, 166-169, 166 A.2d 501 (1960). See also Commonwealth v. Macloon, 101 Mass. 1, 8 (1869); Louisville, Evansville, & St. Louis R. R. v. Clarke, 152 U.S. 230, 239-241, 14 S.Ct. 579, 581-82, 38 L.Ed. 422 (1894). If "Deed" were read as referring to the act, then the act might not have eventuated in a death within the year, and so there would be no basis for an appeal. On the other hand, it would be hard to understand the statute to say that appeal would lie within a year and a day of the act, provided death also occurred within that time. Possibly the draftsman gave no thought to the problem of an interval between the act and the death. At any rate, according to the generally accepted interpretation, the statute operated like an ordinary statute of limitations.

The "appeal" became obsolete long before it was formally extinguished in 1819 by the Stat. 59 Geo. 3, c. 46, and our real interest is in Crown prosecutions for homicide. By the Eighteenth Century, and indeed much earlier,

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we find a general assumption that a homicide could be prosecuted as [381 Mass. 414] such only if the death occurred within a year and a day of the act; this was distinct from any question of the period of limitations for commencing a prosecution. See Commonwealth v. Ladd, supra, 402 Pa. at 169, 166 A.2d 501. 7 Here we have the year and a day rule that is questioned in the present cases. Blackstone states this rule separately from the one about appeals deriving from the statute of Edward I (4 W. Blackstone, Commentaries 197-198, 310-311 (1769)), but it is natural to suppose, although it has not been demonstrated, that there was a connection between the two. The standard, if perhaps unhistorical, explanation of the rule, often repeated in the books, is that, in the condition of medical science until recent times, it would have been hard to establish convincingly a line of causation between an act and a relatively distant death, and it was thus plausible to make the presumption ("conclusive" as well as arbitrary) that a death more than a year removed from the assault or similar antecedent arose from a natural rather than the criminal cause. See State v. Brown, 21 Md.App. 91, 94-95, 318 A.2d 257 (1974). Occasionally it has been surmised that the rule was linked in some way to the early function of the jury as reporters of the happenings of the vicinage who required no aid from witnesses-but the jury would not have had knowledge sufficient to trace cause to effect over a sizeable interval of time. See State v. Sandridge, 5 Ohio Op.3d 419, 420, 365 N.E.2d 898 (Ohio C.P.1977). Again we find a suggestion that the rule was intended simply to soften the old brutal law regarding homicides. See Commonwealth v. Evaul, 5 Pa.D. & C. 105, 106 (Q.S. Phila. County 1924).

These reasons are far from persuasive today as justification for the rule. In particular the rule appears anachronistic upon a consideration of the advances of medical and related science in solving etiological problems as well as in sustaining[381 Mass. 415] or prolonging life in the face of trauma or disease. See Commonwealth v. Golston, 373 Mass. 249, 254-255, 366 N.E.2d 744 (1977); State v. Brown, supra, 21 Md.App. at 97, 318 A.2d 257; People v. Snipe, 25 Cal.App.3d 742, 747, 102 Cal.Rptr. 6 (1972). Thus the relatively short time limit is seen as not only capricious but as senselessly indulgent toward homicidal malefactors. It is reckoned a sufficient safeguard for defendants that the prosecution, quite apart from the rule, must establish the connection between act and death by proof beyond a reasonable doubt. If, nevertheless, the rule can be said still to exist in a large number of jurisdictions in this country (see Annot., 60 A.L.R.3d 1323 (1974)), this is accounted for by the perdurability of statutes in some of them stating the rule, by the fact that over past years there have been few occasions on which the issue has been raised and presented squarely to the courts for decision, 8 and by a tendency to regard so old a dogma as peculiarly suitable for interment by Legislatures not courts. Yet there has been some movement in the courts as we shall see.

The parties in the present actions have debated whether there has...

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28 practice notes
  • State v. Vance, No. 202PA90
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • May 2, 1991
    ...been viewed to have applied in public prosecutions and to have "operated like an ordinary statute of limitations." Commonwealth v. Lewis, 381 Mass. 411, 413, 409 N.E.2d 771, 772 (1980), cert. denied, 450 U.S. 929, 101 S.Ct. 1386, 67 L.Ed.2d 360 (1981). But see People v. Mudd, 154 Ill.App.3d......
  • Com. v. Cass
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • August 16, 1984
    ...felony is murder only if the circumstances demonstrate the defendant's conscious disregard of risk to human life); Commonwealth v. Lewis, 381 Mass. 411, 409 N.E.2d 771 (1980), cert. denied sub nom. Phillips v. Massachusetts, 450 U.S. 929, 101 S.Ct. 1386, 67 L.Ed.2d 360 (1981) (the inflictio......
  • Com. v. Twitchell
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • August 11, 1993
    ...1324 (1984) (new rule that fetus is person under definition of vehicular homicide not applied retroactively); Commonwealth v. Lewis, 381 Mass. 411, 418, 409 N.E.2d 771 (1980) (abolishing year-and-a-day rule in homicides prospectively), cert. denied sub nom. Phillips v. Massachusetts, 450 U.......
  • Dias v. Maloney, No. Civ.A. 00-10845-WGY.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Massachusetts
    • August 2, 2001
    ...Mass. 843, 519 N.E.2d 1328 (1988) (rape); Commonwealth v. Fratus, 385 Mass. 551, 432 N.E.2d 710 (1982) (murder); Commonwealth v. Lewis, 381 Mass. 411, 409 N.E.2d 771 (1980) (homicide); Commonwealth v. Bettencourt, 361 Mass. 515, 281 N.E.2d 220 (1972) (rape); Commonwealth v. Pina, 360 Mass. ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
28 cases
  • State v. Vance, No. 202PA90
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • May 2, 1991
    ...been viewed to have applied in public prosecutions and to have "operated like an ordinary statute of limitations." Commonwealth v. Lewis, 381 Mass. 411, 413, 409 N.E.2d 771, 772 (1980), cert. denied, 450 U.S. 929, 101 S.Ct. 1386, 67 L.Ed.2d 360 (1981). But see People v. Mudd, 154 Ill.App.3d......
  • Com. v. Cass
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • August 16, 1984
    ...felony is murder only if the circumstances demonstrate the defendant's conscious disregard of risk to human life); Commonwealth v. Lewis, 381 Mass. 411, 409 N.E.2d 771 (1980), cert. denied sub nom. Phillips v. Massachusetts, 450 U.S. 929, 101 S.Ct. 1386, 67 L.Ed.2d 360 (1981) (the inflictio......
  • Com. v. Twitchell
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • August 11, 1993
    ...1324 (1984) (new rule that fetus is person under definition of vehicular homicide not applied retroactively); Commonwealth v. Lewis, 381 Mass. 411, 418, 409 N.E.2d 771 (1980) (abolishing year-and-a-day rule in homicides prospectively), cert. denied sub nom. Phillips v. Massachusetts, 450 U.......
  • Dias v. Maloney, No. Civ.A. 00-10845-WGY.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Massachusetts
    • August 2, 2001
    ...Mass. 843, 519 N.E.2d 1328 (1988) (rape); Commonwealth v. Fratus, 385 Mass. 551, 432 N.E.2d 710 (1982) (murder); Commonwealth v. Lewis, 381 Mass. 411, 409 N.E.2d 771 (1980) (homicide); Commonwealth v. Bettencourt, 361 Mass. 515, 281 N.E.2d 220 (1972) (rape); Commonwealth v. Pina, 360 Mass. ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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