McCarthy v. Manson

Decision Date03 December 1982
Docket NumberCiv. No. H 80-263.
Citation554 F. Supp. 1275
PartiesRobert J. McCARTHY v. John R. MANSON, Commissioner of Corrections of the State of Connecticut.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Connecticut

COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

Michael R. Sheldon, Robert Holzberg, University of Connecticut Crim. Clinic, West Hartford, Conn., John T. Scully, Cooney, Scully & Dowling, Hartford, Conn., for petitioner.

John M. Massameno, Carl Schuman, Asst. State's Attys., Office of the Chief State's Atty., Div. of Crim. Justice of the Judicial Dept. of the State of Conn., Wallingford, Conn., for respondent.

RULING ON MOTION TO ALTER OR AMEND JUDGMENT

JOSE A. CABRANES, District Judge:

By a motion to alter or amend a judgment entered with the consent of both parties (styled "Motion to Open and Amend Judgment"), the Office of the Chief State's Attorney, a part of the judicial department of the state government, seeks the reincarceration of a man released from prison by this court; the state had urged his release, pursuant to a writ of habeas corpus issued by the court, after it conceded that it had violated his constitutional right to a speedy trial.

Robert J. McCarthy was convicted of murder at a trial held in the Superior Court of the State of Connecticut in January 1977, fully 21 months after he was arrested and charged with the offense. After having pursued state appellate remedies, and having served five years of a twenty-five years-to-life sentence, he petitioned this court for a writ of habeas corpus, alleging that he had been denied the right to a speedy trial guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution.1 The case was referred to United States Magistrate F. Owen Eagan pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Rule 10, Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts. The issuance of a writ was recommended by Magistrate Eagan after a three-day evidentiary hearing. Counsel for the respondent state authorities concurred in the magistrate's recommendation that a judgment enter for the petitioner and that he be released from prison. After McCarthy's release, the Chief State's Attorney discussed the matter with the Chief Court Administrator of the State of Connecticut, and thereafter, upon reconsidering the state's position, the Chief State's Attorney moved to undo the results of the earlier representations to this court by his agents and subordinates.

The court declines to alter or amend its prior judgment, but intimates no view as to the speedy trial rights of other habeas corpus petitioners. Robert J. McCarthy is today a free man because (1) the state of Connecticut denied his constitutional right to a speedy trial; (2) the state's attorneys conceded that McCarthy's rights had been violated; (3) the state's attorneys consented to the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus and the release of McCarthy from prison; and (4) even were any of those conclusions not beyond doubt, the state's attorneys failed to raise objections in a timely and proper way to the magistrate's recommended decision on this matter. The result is limited to the particular circumstances of this case, in which both parties urged the court to grant habeas relief, and in which subsequent application to have the court alter its prior judgment was not made properly under the law.

The harsh fact is that the effect of the state's conduct2 is the release from imprisonment of a man convicted by a jury of a serious crime. Those who worry about the standards that govern our system of justice will be troubled by this consequence.

Yet, however harsh that outcome, the resolution of this case does not present a triumph of form over substance. On the contrary, this court's decision today is compelled by the necessity that principles of law, whether embodied in the Constitution and laws of the United States, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or the local rules of this district court, must remain fixed and secure. The strictures governing court and prosecutor alike are designed to insure that the processes of criminal justice are carried out with care and deliberation, for were the law applied casually and without thought, the result would not be justice, and the enforcers of the law would become merely the custodians of power.

Thus, though the holding of this case is limited to its facts, the principles controlling that holding are of more than local significance. The requirement that objections to the recommendations of a United States magistrate be timely filed, the integrity of a judgment of this court entered upon the avowed consent of both parties, and the reliability of the state's representations: those are the standards at issue in this case. To maintain such principles is not to undermine our legal system but to assure that it is founded upon the most solid bedrock.

Accordingly, the motion to alter or amend the judgment fails for various reasons, any one of which, standing alone, would be sufficient to determine the outcome. The motion is denied.

Facts

On April 5, 1975, the Norwalk, Connecticut police arrested Robert J. McCarthy, the petitioner, in connection with the shooting of two persons. McCarthy was then charged under state law with the crimes of murder and attempted murder. McCarthy pleaded not guilty to both charges, and elected to be tried by a jury. The trial, originally scheduled for July 10, 1975, was delayed at the request of the state until November 3, 1976—that is, until nearly nineteen months after McCarthy's arrest. See Findings of Fact and Recommended Decision (filed Oct. 29, 1981), 554 F.Supp. 1275, 1293-1309 ("Recommended Decision") at 1293-1298.3

McCarthy was incarcerated throughout the time he was awaiting trial and sought a trial on numerous occasions during the lengthy period of time between arrest and trial. His first formal request to the Superior Court for a trial (styled "Motion for a Speedy Trial"), Recommended Decision at 1294, was made on August 28, 1975, about six weeks after the original postponement of his trial. This request was opposed by the state's attorney's office and denied by the Superior Court on September 16, 1975. Thereafter, McCarthy filed no fewer than three additional motions4 to have his case dismissed because of the asserted failure to afford him the speedy trial guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. Neither McCarthy nor his counsel made a single request for a postponement during the period between McCarthy's arrest and his long-delayed trial. Id. at 1295.

When McCarthy was finally brought to trial, on November 3, 1976, a mistrial resulted. On January 11, 1977, McCarthy was retried. At trial, the state sought to prove that McCarthy, although not physically present at the scene of the murder, had aided and abetted Jean Siretz, who actually shot the victims. The state's principal witness was Siretz, who had earlier pleaded guilty to the murder and attempted murder charges, and was sentenced to prison for a period of seven and one-half to fifteen years. On February 2, 1977, McCarthy, who was alleged to have solicited Siretz's action, was found guilty of the murder itself, and of attempted murder, pursuant to C.G.S. § 53a-8. On March 18, 1977 he was sentenced to concurrent terms of imprisonment of 10 to 20 years, and 25 years to life. Recommended Decision at 1294.

After sentencing, McCarthy appealed his conviction, alleging, inter alia, that his right to a speedy trial, as guaranteed by the United States and Connecticut Constitutions, had been violated. On September 4, 1979, the Supreme Court of the State of Connecticut affirmed McCarthy's conviction, and, on September 18, 1979 that court denied McCarthy's motion to reargue his case. State v. McCarthy, 179 Conn. 1, 425 A.2d 924 (1979); Recommended Decision at 1293.

Having failed to obtain relief from the Supreme Court of Connecticut, McCarthy, on April 28, 1980, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut. On September 15, 1980, McCarthy's petition was referred to Magistrate Eagan for hearing and a recommended decision.

On October 29, 1981, after an evidentiary hearing and extensive briefing, the magistrate filed his recommended decision. He concluded that McCarthy had exhausted his state remedies and, therefore, that the district court could properly entertain his constitutional claims. Recommended Decision at 1298-1299. The magistrate then applied the test enunciated by the United States Supreme Court in Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 92 S.Ct. 2182, 33 L.Ed.2d 101 (1972), to determine whether an individual's right to a speedy trial had been violated. He found that the length of McCarthy's pretrial incarceration was presumptively prejudicial, Recommended Decision at 1300; that McCarthy had vigorously and timely sought a speedy trial, id. at 1300-1301; and that there was no acceptable justification for the delay. Id. at 1304. In addition, the magistrate found that the lengthy delay in bringing McCarthy to trial had caused McCarthy actual and substantial prejudice. Id. at 1305; see generally id. at 1299-1309. For these reasons, the magistrate held that McCarthy's federal constitutional right to a speedy trial had been violated, and recommended that the court grant McCarthy's petition for a writ of habeas corpus and thereby release him from prison. Id. at 1308-1309.

No objection was filed to the recommended decision. In the absence of the court's approval of the recommended decision (for reasons stated in the record and partly set forth in the margin),5 counsel for petitioner on December 10, 1981 filed a motion for immediate review and acceptance of the recommended decision. The court then scheduled a hearing on the recommended decision for January 13, 1982.

At that hearing, the duly authorized counsel for respondent, see Findings of Fact (filed Dec. 3, 1982) ("Findings") (unpublished) ¶¶...

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