Pittman v. State

Decision Date10 January 1973
Citation301 A.2d 509
PartiesAaron PITTMAN, Defendant Below, Appellant, v. STATE of Delaware, Plaintiff Below, Appellee.
CourtSupreme Court of Delaware

Upon appeal from the Superior Court.

William J. Taylor, III, Asst. Public Defender, Wilmington, for defendant below, appellant.

Richard H. Schliem, III, Deputy Atty. Gen., Wilmington, for plaintiff below, appellee.

WOLCOTT, C.J., and CAREY and HERRMANN, JJ., sitting.

CAREY, Justice (for the majority of the Court):

Defendant-appellant Aaron Pittman (Pittman) seeks reversal of his conviction in the Superior Court of the crime of robbery. Error is assigned not to the conduct of the trial or the sentence, but rather to the Court's refusal to dismiss the indictment with prejudice on the ground that the State failed to prosecute the charge within the time limits set by the Interstate Agreement on Detainers, 11 Del.C. §§ 2540--2550 (1969) (IAD). We agree with appellant's contentions.

The Delaware IAD has never been reviewed by this Court, and this case is therefore one of first impression in Delaware. It is necessary that we review the chronology of events and the statutory provisions in some detail.


The chronology is this:

November 8, 1969. The robbery giving rise to the indictment was committed in Wilmington by four men, one of whom was allegedly Pittman.

November 10, 1969. Pittman was arrested in Baltimore, Maryland, in connection with this robbery.

November 20, 1969. Pittman refused to waive extradition to Delaware on this charge.

November 26, 1969. Pittman was informed by someone that the Delaware charges against him were dropped. He remained incarcerated in Maryland because of other charges in that state.

May 4, 1970. Pittman having discovered that this charge was not dropped, sent a handwritten request to a Maryland prison official (apparently the proper person) requesting that detainer forms be filled out so that he could return to Delaware for a speedy trial. 1 The prison official refused to act and informed Pittman that Delaware was not a party to the IAD. 2 Pittman was told to write directly to the Delaware prosecutor.

July 2, 1970. Pittman typed and sent by certified mail a letter to the 'District Attorney, Office of the State's Attorney, Court House, Wilmington, Delaware,' requesting an immediate trial on the robbery charge.

July 13, 1970. The certified letter of July 2 was received in the Attorney General's office. The record shows no responsive action whatever by the Attorney General or his staff.

August 4, 1970. Pittman addressed a handwritten 'Petition for a Writ of Mandamus Informa Pauperis' (sic), which was sent by certified mail to the Superior Court. The petition was captioned as follows:




Mr. Daniel T. Buckson, Et. Al. (sic)

The Attorney Generals Office

Charge: Robbery

August 7, 1970: Pittman mailed a handwritten certified letter to 'The Chief Judge of the Supreme Bench of Wilmington, Delaware,' 3 also requesting a speedy trial. Underneath the address block in the center of the page, Pittman had written and underlined the title of his letter as follows:

Interstate Detainer

Fast and Speedy Trial Petition

This letter was received in the Office of the Chief Justice of this Court; there is no record of any subsequent action with regard to it; usually, a letter of this sort is promptly delivered to the Attorney General's Office, and presumably this happened here.

August 20, 1970. The President Judge, having received the correspondence of August 4, wrote to Pittman advising him that his petition had been filed with the Superior Court and that copies of his petition were forwarded to the Attorney General and the Public Defender. The record again shows no responsive action by the Attorney General or his staff.

November 17, 1970. The Deputy Administrator for the IAD in Delaware, under a cover letter to the Maryland Attorney General, enclosed a form submitted by a Delaware Deputy Attorney General requesting custody of Pittman to clear a felony indictment pending in Delaware. 4 Trial on this indictment was scheduled for December 16, 1970, but the case was not then tried because Pittman had not been delivered to Delaware.

February 25, 1971. Pittman refused to waive extradition under 11 Del.C. § 2543(d) at a court hearing in Maryland. The Delaware Attorney General was notified of this refusal by a letter of March 4, 1971, from the Maryland IAD administrator.

April 2, 1971. The Delaware Deputy Attorney General was notified by the Warden of the Maryland prison of Pittman's refusal to waive extradition.

May 20, 1971. Pittman was brought to Delaware under temporary custody from the State of Maryland, in accordance with 11 Del.C. §§ 2543--44.

July 26, 1971. Pittman was convicted of the robbery in the Superior Court.


The Delaware Constitution provides that:

'In all criminal prosecutions, the accused hath a right to . . . a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury;' Del.Const. art. 1, § 7.

The Delaware Legislature, in enacting the IAD, provided that:

'. . . it is the policy of the party States and the purpose of this agreement to encourage the expeditious and orderly disposition of such charges and determination of the proper status of any and all detainers based on untried indictments, informations or complaints.' 11 Del.C. § 2540.

The Legislature further required that:

'This agreement shall be Liberally construed so as to effectuate its purposes.' 11 Del.C. § 2548 (emphasis added).

What constitutes a speedy trial is relative and may be variable, depending on the facts and circumstances of each individual case. Kominski v. State, Del.Supr., 1 Storey 163, 141 A.2d 138 (1958); cert. den. 358 U.S. 850, 79 S.Ct. 80, 3 L.Ed.2d 86 (1958). Nevertheless, the Legislature may establish a time period after which the accused will be considered to have been denied a speedy trial, regardless of circumstances, for the preservation and protection of the accused's rights.

The IAD provides that a prisoner against whom a detainer is lodged may request extradition for purposes of trial under 11 Del.C. § 2542. In such a case, the State Must respond and bring the prisoner. to trial within 180 days after written notice is delivered to the prosecutor's office.

A similar option is available to the State under 11 Del.C. § 2543. The State may initiate the detainer proceeding and Must then commence trial within 120 days of the prisoner's arrival in the requesting state's jurisdiction. The commencement of a trial beyond either of the aforementioned time limits necessarily denies the prisoner a speedy trial, and the indictment(s) must be dismissed with prejudice. 11 Del.C. §§ 2542(d), 2543(e).

Two questions are presented: (1) Were Pittman's requests and letters during the period May 4, 1970, to November 17, 1970, sufficient under the IAD to invoke the 180-day provision of § 2542?; and (2) If Pittman's requests were valid, did the November 17, 1970, request of the Attorney General toll the statute as to Pittman's requests under § 2542 and thereby permit the State to invoke the 120-day after-extradition provision of § 2543, thus validating the action of the Court below?


The State urges us to disregard Pittman's requests of May 4, July 2, August 4, and August 7, 1970, because they did not satisfy the procedural requirements of the IAD. The State claims that the IAD is in derogation of the common law and as such must be strictly construed. It contends that the mistakes of the Maryland officials should not frustrate Delaware's timely attempt to bring accused felons to trial.

This construction of the IAD not only misreads the purpose, but effectively emasculates it as well. The Legislature enacted no specific requirement that a prisoner, for whose benefit the IAD was enacted, be apprised of the technical aspects of the law. Indeed, the Legislature has placed one, and only one burden on the prisoner, that is, to ask the prison official who has custody over him to prepare and send the forms to the jurisdiction from which a detainer is lodged against him. The prisoner is not required to determine whether the foreign state is under the Act; nor is he required to police the correction official to establish that the official performs his statutory duties; nor is he bound to make sure that the form of his request complies with the technical and procedural requirements of the IAD.

On the other hand, the Uniform Act has put an absolute burden of the prison official to prepare and send these forms and, impliedly, to have knowledge or to determine whether the state which has lodged the detainer is under the IAD. The prisoner has no supervisory powers and the prison official has no discretion under the Act. State v. Lippolis, 101 N.J.Super. 435, 244 A.2d 531, 536 (1968); rev'd on other grounds 55 N.J. 354, 262 A.2d 203 (1970); People v. Masselli, 17 A.D.2d 367, 234 N.Y.S.2d 929, 933 (1962); People v. Esposito, 201 N.Y.S.2d 83, 90 (Co.Ct.1960).

If, then, as the State urges, we should strictly construe this statute, we must do so in favor of the prisoner because the State, through its agents and its control of the procedural aspects of the IAD, controls the only ultimate guarantee of performance for the benefit of the prisoner.

Both the Maryland and Delaware officials committed error in this case. Pittman did more than he was required to do under the IAD. He not only requested assistance from the proper Maryland officer, but in spite of the erroneous response, he wrote directly to the Attorney General of Delaware on July 2, 1970, which was received by the Attorney General's office on July 13, 1970. The letter concluded as follows:

'So at this time, I am prevailing upon this office (Delaware Attorney General) to clear up this situation once and for all. Namely, if I have a detainer in this office, I wish to answer it immediately, and if not I would be...

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