Commonwealth v. Butler

Decision Date26 March 2013
Docket NumberSJC–11073.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

464 Mass. 706
985 N.E.2d 377

Reginald BUTLER.


Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts,

Argued Dec. 3, 2012.
Decided March 26, 2013.

[985 N.E.2d 379]

Michael J. Fellows, Northampton, for the defendant.

Joseph M. Ditkoff, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.



[464 Mass. 707]This case presents the central questions for purposes of a defendant's right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution or art. 11 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights: (1) when the speedy trial clock starts, and (2) whether the speedy trial clock “resumes” or “resets” when, after the right to a speedy trial attached, the Commonwealth dismisses charges and then reinstates the charges at a later date. We conclude, pursuant to art. 11 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, that (1) the speedy trial clock starts when a Massachusetts criminal complaint issues, and (2) the speedy trial clock “resumes” when the Commonwealth reinstates charges following dismissal.

After the Appeals Court concluded that the delay in bringing the defendant to trial did not violate Mass. R.Crim. P. 36, 378 Mass. 909 (1979), and affirmed the defendant's rape conviction, see Commonwealth v. Butler, 68 Mass.App.Ct. 658, 661, 667, 864 N.E.2d 33 (2007)( Butler I ), the defendant filed a motion for a new trial alleging that appellate counsel 1 was ineffective for failing to argue to the Appeals Court that the defendant's motion to dismiss on speedy trial grounds should have been allowed under the speedy trial provisions of the State or Federal Constitution.2 See id. at 659, n. 2, 864 N.E.2d 33. The motion for a new trial was denied, and the Appeals Court affirmed.3 See

[985 N.E.2d 380]

Commonwealth v. Butler, 79 Mass.App.Ct. 751, 759, 949 N.E.2d 936 (2011)( Butler II ). We granted the defendant's application for further appellate review. Like the Appeals Court, we conclude that the defendant was not denied [464 Mass. 708]the effective assistance of counsel. Therefore, we affirm the order denying the motion for a new trial.

1. Facts. We summarize the relevant facts as found by the motion judge, supplemented by uncontested facts set forth in Butler I, supra at 659–661, 864 N.E.2d 33.

On September 16, 1991, a criminal complaint and an arrest warrant issued from the Chelsea Division of the District Court Department against the defendant for rape in violation of G.L. c. 265, § 22 ( b ), and unarmed burglary in violation of G.L. c. 266, § 15, both alleged to have occurred three days earlier. On May 21, 1992, a warrant for the defendant's arrest for these crimes was lodged at the correctional institution where the defendant was serving a sentence on unrelated charges. It appears from the docket that court personnel in the District Court failed to enter details concerning the warrant in the warrant management system as required by G.L. c. 276, § 23A. In January, 1993, while still incarcerated on the unrelated charges, the defendant signed a form requesting a speedy trial on the 1991 complaint. Although the District Court received the defendant's request, the form was not docketed and no action was taken on the request. A department of correction “summary/key issues” report dated April 14, 1993, stated that rape and burglary charges against the defendant were outstanding; however, subsequent “summary/key issues” reports issued between 1994 and 1997, which the defendant signed, stated that the defendant had “no outstanding legal issues.”

The defendant completed his sentence on the unrelated charges and was released on June 21, 1997. Three days later, a second warrant for his arrest issued on the rape and burglary charges. The defendant was arrested and arraigned in District Court on the 1991 complaint on March 11, 1998. On April 10, 1998, however, the charges against him were dismissed without prejudice because the Commonwealth was unable to locate the rape victim.

The Commonwealth subsequently renewed contact with the victim and, on March 23, 1999, nearly one year following the dismissal of the charges, obtained aggravated rape and unarmed burglary indictments against the defendant. The defendant was arraigned in Superior Court on May 6, 1999. The defendant's trial began on May 5, 2003, where the issue was not whether [464 Mass. 709]intercourse occurred (the fact of intercourse was established by deoxyribonucleic acid [DNA] evidence and conceded by the defendant), but whether, as the defendant claimed, the victim consented to sexual intercourse in exchange for drugs. A jury convicted the defendant of the lesser included offense of rape, and acquitted him of unarmed burglary.

2. Standard of review. Counsel's performance is ineffective if it falls “measurably below that which might be expected from an ordinary fallible lawyer,” and “likely deprived the defendant of an otherwise available, substantial ground of defence.” Commonwealth v. Saferian, 366 Mass. 89, 96, 315 N.E.2d 878 (1974)( Saferian ). “A strategic or tactical decision by counsel will not be considered ineffective

[985 N.E.2d 381]

assistance unless the decision was ‘manifestly unreasonable’ when made.” 4Commonwealth v. Roderiques, 462 Mass. 415, 425–426, 968 N.E.2d 908 (2012), quoting Commonwealth v. Watson, 455 Mass. 246, 256, 915 N.E.2d 1052 (2009). To determine whether either prong of the Saferian test is implicated here, we consider the merits of the defendant's claim that the delay in bringing him to trial violated his constitutional right to a speedy trial.

3. Speedy trial analysis.5 (a) Threshold inquiry: “presumptive prejudice.” “Simply to trigger a speedy trial analysis, an accused must allege that the interval between accusation and trial [464 Mass. 710]has crossed the threshold dividing ordinary from ‘presumptively prejudicial’ delay.” Doggett v. United States, 505 U.S. 647, 651–652, 112 S.Ct. 2686, 120 L.Ed.2d 520 (1992)( Doggett ), citing Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 530–531, 92 S.Ct. 2182, 33 L.Ed.2d 101 (1972)( Barker ). Once a defendant has established presumptive prejudice, courts apply the four-factor Barker test to evaluate whether the defendant's constitutional right to a speedy trial has, in fact, been violated. Doggett, supra. Further analysis of a speedy trial claim under Barker is necessary because “presumptive prejudice cannot alone carry a [speedy trial] claim,” but is instead “part of the mix of relevant facts.” Doggett, supra at 655–656, 112 S.Ct. 2686.

Although the considerable delay leaves no doubt that a Barker inquiry is warranted, we take this opportunity to consider the precise length of delay in the present case. Thus, we address (1) when the defendant's speedy trial right attached, and (2) whether the time prior to the April, 1998, dismissal counts against the Commonwealth, to bring clarity to ambiguous points of law.

(i) Attachment. It is well-established that indictment or arrest starts the speedy trial clock. See United States v. Marion, 404 U.S. 307, 320, 92 S.Ct. 455, 30 L.Ed.2d 468 (1971) (“it is either a formal indictment or information or else the actual restraints imposed by arrest and holding to answer a criminal charge that engage[s]” right to speedy trial). What is less clear is whether a criminal complaint, a different type of accusatory pleading than that cited by the Supreme Court, similarly triggers a defendant's speedy trial right. See Rashad v. Walsh, 300 F.3d 27, 35–36 (1st Cir.2002), cert. denied

[985 N.E.2d 382]

537 U.S. 1236, 123 S.Ct. 1360, 155 L.Ed.2d 202 (2003). See generally Mass. R.Crim. P. 3(g)(1), as amended by 442 Mass. 1502 (2004) (complaint process). This ambiguity stems from the “interchangeable use of the terms ‘indictment’ and ‘filing of charges.’ ” Rashad v. Walsh, supra at 36, quoting United States v. MacDonald, 456 U.S. 1, 6–7, 102 S.Ct. 1497, 71 L.Ed.2d 696 (1982)( MacDonald ). See Doggett, supra at 655, 112 S.Ct. 2686 (“arrest, indictment, or other official accusation triggers right to speedy trial [emphasis supplied]). United States v. Marion, supra at 321, 92 S.Ct. 455 (“Invocation of the speedy trial provision thus need not await indictment, information or other formal charge [emphasis supplied]). Given this ambiguity, courts have reached different [464 Mass. 711]conclusions 6 concerning whether a criminal complaint constitutes a “formal charge” for the purposes of the attachment of a defendant's right to a speedy trial.7 Therefore, it is not surprising that some of our appellate decisions have stated that a criminal complaint triggers the right to a speedy trial. Compare Commonwealth v. Malone, 65 Mass.App.Ct. 285, 288, 838 N.E.2d 1265 (2005); Commonwealth v. Willis, 21 Mass.App.Ct. 963, 964, 488 N.E.2d 1193 (1986), and cases cited; and Commonwealth v. Conant, 12 Mass.App.Ct. 287, 289, 423 N.E.2d 1035 (1981), and cases cited; with Commonwealth v. Look, 379 Mass. 893, 898, 402 N.E.2d 470, cert. denied 449 U.S. 827, 101 S.Ct. 91, 66 L.Ed.2d 31 (1980), citing United States v. Marion, supra at 320–321, 92 S.Ct. 455 (right to speedy trial attaches at indictment); and Commonwealth v. Gove, 366 Mass. 351, 353–354, 361, 320 N.E.2d 900 (1974) (same). Indeed, here, the motion judge stated that “the issuance of a District

[985 N.E.2d 383]

Court complaint is [464 Mass. 712]ordinarily sufficient to trigger the defendant's right to a speedy trial.”

We conclude that a defendant's right to a speedy trial, at least under art. 11, attaches when a criminal complaint issues. Therefore, arrest, indictment, or a criminal complaint issued pursuant to Massachusetts law, whichever comes first, will start the speedy trial clock. Any cases to the contrary are no longer good law. See, e.g., Commonwealth v. Gove, supra. The constitutional right to a speedy trial attaches because the subject of a criminal complaint is undoubtedly an “accused,” and is not merely in “the preaccusation period...

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