People v. Staley

Decision Date07 June 1977
Parties, 364 N.E.2d 1111 The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Respondent, v. James STALEY, Appellant.
CourtNew York Court of Appeals Court of Appeals

Joseph A. Shifflett and Nathaniel A. Barrell, Buffalo, for appellant.

Edward C. Cosgrove, Dist. Atty., Buffalo (Judith Blake Manzella, Buffalo, of counsel), for respondent.

BREITEL, Chief Judge.

Defendant, convicted after a jury trial of unauthorized use of a vehicle (Penal Law, § 165.05), seeks reversal of his conviction and dismissal of the indictment. The Appellate Division affirmed the conviction, one Justice dissenting, and defendant appeals.

Defendant had been arrested and the charges dismissed, without prejudice to presentation to the Grand Jury, at the prosecutor's request. Thirty-one months later, for no stated reason explaining the delay, an indictment was returned. The issue is whether the unexplained delay deprived defendant of a constitutionally guaranteed speedy trial or of due process of law, thus requiring dismissal of the indictment.

The order of the Appellate Division should be reversed, and the indictment dismissed. Once a suspect has been proceeded against in some sort of judicial proceeding as an accused, either by arrest, indictment, or other pretrial proceeding, he is entitled, in the absence of prosecutorial justification or excuse, to reasonably prompt prosecution of the charges against him. The guarantee of prompt prosecution is derived in part from the constitutional right to a speedy trial, but in more encompassing terms, from the constitutional mandate of due process of law. As a result of the wholly unexplained 31-month delay, defendant was denied reasonably prompt prosecution of charges, a denial of due process of law which should result in the dismissal of his indictment.

About August 15, 1972, a Cadillac automobile was stolen from one Angelo Plumeri. Four days later, defendant, seen driving the car, was arrested after a protracted chase, during which the car crashed into a house. Charged with criminal possession of stolen property and reckless endangerment, defendant was arraigned the next day. He evidently spent four days in jail before bail was posted (dissenting opn. at App.Div.). Then, on September 21, 1972, the complaint was dismissed at the request of the District Attorney so that the charges could be directly presented to the Grand Jury, and the bail was discharged. The case was then apparently forgotten, for more than two and one-half years, until March 25, 1975, when defendant was indicted.

The indictment for the 1972 offense was tried, finally, in September, 1975, after defendant had entered, and then withdrawn, a guilty plea. At trial, defendant's motion to dismiss the indictment for failure to prosecute promptly was denied. The jury found defendant guilty of unauthorized use of a vehicle, and the court sentenced defendant to one year in prison. (Defendant pleaded guilty to another 1972 automobile crime, under indictment No. 40,211-A, and has been sentenced. That conviction is not involved in this appeal.)

By statute, this State has long guaranteed criminal defendants the right to a speedy trial (CPL 30.20; see People v. Prosser, 309 N.Y. 353, 356, 130 N.E.2d 891, 893; see, also, CPL 30.30).

There has been in recent years a considerable expansion of the Federal constitutional right to a speedy trial (see Dillingham v. United States, 423 U.S. 64, 64-65, 96 S.Ct. 303, 46 L.Ed.2d 205; United States v. Marion, 404 U.S. 307, 320-321, 92 S.Ct. 455, 30 L.Ed.2d 468; Klopfer v. North Carolina, 386 U.S. 213, 221-226, 87 S.Ct. 988, 18 L.Ed.2d 1). Once an arrest has been made, the criminal proceeding is deemed to have started, and defendant is entitled, constitutionally, to a speedy trial (Dillingham v. United States, 423 U.S. 64, 65, 96 S.Ct. 303, 46 L.Ed.2d 205, supra ).

Even before the Supreme Court's most recent broadening of the constitutional guarantee of a speedy trial, however, this court recognized that unreasonable delay in prosecuting a defendant constitutes a denial of due process of law (People v. Winfrey, 20 N.Y.2d 138, 143, 281 N.Y.S.2d 823, 827, 228 N.E.2d 808, 811; see People v. Wilson, 8 N.Y.2d 391, 394-395, 208 N.Y.S.2d 963, 964-965, 171 N.E.2d 310, 312). And, when unexplained or inexcusable preindictment delay and postindictment delay, taken together, work a deprivation, it is a deprivation of due process of law. In such case, it is unnecessary to determine whether the postindictment delay alone, is sufficiently unreasonable to mandate dismissal of an indictment (see People v. Winfrey, 20 N.Y.2d 138, 143-144, 281 N.Y.S.2d 823, 827-828, 228 N.E.2d 808, 811-812, supra ).

Moreover, in this State, failure to conduct a prompt prosecution, in a proper case, may require dismissal of an indictment even in the absence of prejudice to the defendant. (See People v. Taranovich, 37 N.Y.2d 442, 447, 373 N.Y.S.2d 79, 83, 335 N.E.2d 303, 307; People v. Blakley, 34 N.Y.2d 311, 317, 357 N.Y.S.2d 459, 464, 313 N.E.2d 763, 766; for a less liberal rule see Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 532, 534, 92 S.Ct. 2182, 33 L.Ed.2d 101; United States v. Finkelstein, 2 Cir., 526 F.2d 517, 526, cert. den. sub nom. Scardino v. United States, 425 U.S. 960, 96 S.Ct. 1742, 48 L.Ed.2d 205; United States v. Ferrara, 2 Cir., 458 F.2d 868, 875; cert. den. 408 U.S. 931, 92 S.Ct. 2498, 33 L.Ed.2d 343; but see Dillingham v. United States, 423 U.S. 64, 64-65, 96 S.Ct. 303, 46 L.Ed.2d 205, supra.)

Society, as well as the defendant, has an important interest in assuring prompt prosecution of those suspected of criminal activity (People v. Johnson, 38 N.Y.2d 271, 276, 379 N.Y.S.2d 735, 740, 342 N.E.2d 525, 529). Prompt prosecution removes criminals from society's midst, and allows correctional authorities to start the rehabilitation process (see id., p. 276, 379 N.Y.S.2d p. 740, 342 N.E.2d p. 529). It is more than of passing significance that defendant at the time of his arrest was 17 years old, perhaps still within the age group when the probability of rehabilitation is greater than at a later age.

Of course, the constitutional guarantee of due process of law provides no absolute, simple, or single standard. Delays due to difficulty in obtaining sufficient evidence to indict or even to arrest does not mandate dismissal of charges, subject of course to the Statute of Limitations. Similarly, delays due to difficulty in locating a suspect, and other delays may also be excused. But, once a person stands accused of a crime, he must be prosecuted promptly. Sheer neglect or trifling, as in this case, is not permissible.

As already discussed, when the delay is long enough, the charges must be dismissed whether or not defendant's ability to present a defense has been shown to have been hampered. Even shorter delays may result in a deprivation of constitutional rights, especially if it is shown that the defendant has been prejudiced by the delay. As with the right to speedy trial, the due process right to prompt prosecution must be...

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    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
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    ...a denial of due process of law"` (People v. Singer, 44 N.Y.2d 241, 253, 405 N.Y.S.2d 17, 376 N.E.2d 179; People v. Staley, 41 N.Y.2d 789, 791, 396 N.Y.S.2d 339, 364 N.E.2d 1111; see also, N.Y. Const., art. I, § 6). An unjustifiable delay in commencing the prosecution may require dismissal e......
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    • New York Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
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    ...as the defendant, has an important interest in assuring prompt prosecution of those suspected of criminal activity" ( People v. Staley, 41 N.Y.2d 789, 792, 396 N.Y.S.2d 339, 364 N.E.2d 1111 [1977], citing People v. Johnson, 38 N.Y.2d 271, 276, 379 N.Y.S.2d 735, 342 N.E.2d 525 [1975] ). Dela......
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    • U.S. District Court — Western District of New York
    • November 28, 2006
    ...proper case, may require dismissal of an indictment even in the absence of prejudice to the defendant." People v. Staley, 41 N.Y.2d 789, 791, 396 N.Y.S.2d 339, 364 N.E.2d 1111 (N.Y.1977) (citing, inter alia, People v. Blakley, 34 N.Y.2d 311, 313 N.E.2d 763, 357 N.Y.S.2d 459 (N.Y.1974)) ("Ab......
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1 books & journal articles
  • Court of Appeals update, 2000 & 2001: conservative voting, narrow rulings.
    • United States
    • Albany Law Review Vol. 65 No. 4, June - June 2002
    • June 22, 2002
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