Rambert v. Com.

Decision Date26 July 1983
Citation389 Mass. 771,452 N.E.2d 222
PartiesChristopher RAMBERT v. COMMONWEALTH.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

William J. Leahy, Boston, for plaintiff.

John N. Tramontozzi, Asst. Dist. Atty., for Commonwealth.

Before HENNESSEY, C.J., and LIACOS, NOLAN and O'CONNOR, JJ.

NOLAN, Justice.

The plaintiff, a juvenile awaiting trial in the Superior Court on indictments charging aggravated rape and armed robbery, commenced the instant action in the county court pursuant to G.L. c. 211, § 3, requesting that the court direct the sheriff of Suffolk County to release him from confinement at the Charles Street jail in Boston, where he was held awaiting trial and to commit him to the custody of the Department of Youth Services (department). The single justice denied relief and the plaintiff obtained an expedited hearing before the full bench. In an order dated May 10, 1983, we reversed and remanded the plaintiff to the custody of the department. 1

The facts are as follows. The plaintiff is approximately sixteen and one-half years of age. Apparently, he is strong, husky, and well developed. Complaints were issued by the Boston Juvenile Court and were subsequently dismissed in August, 1982, when three indictments, including one for aggravated rape and another for armed robbery, were returned. The plaintiff was committed to the custody of the department. On December 13, 1982, he escaped from custody while he was being transported from his place of confinement in Taunton to the Suffolk County Court House. Ten days later the plaintiff was arrested for shoplifting. During that period, a Brookline woman identified the plaintiff as having raped her on December 21, 1982. On April 12, 1983, while being transported from Taunton to Boston, the plaintiff again escaped from the custody of the department after having armed himself with a gun. On April 14, 1983, the plaintiff was arrested.

On a motion of the Commonwealth, a judge in the Superior Court ordered that the plaintiff be committed to the custody of the sheriff of Suffolk County and maintained at the Charles Street jail pending trial. The plaintiff commenced this action arguing that G.L. c. 119, § 68, does not authorize the commitment of a juvenile to a jail or a house of correction.

General Laws c. 119, § 68, first par., as appearing in St.1978, c. 478, § 63, provides, in pertinent part: "A child between seven and seventeen years of age held by the court for further examination, trial or continuance, or for indictment and trial under the provisions of sections seventy-three to eighty-three, or to prosecute an appeal to a juvenile appeals session, if unable to furnish bail, shall be committed by the court to the care of the department of youth services or to a probation officer, a parent, guardian, or other responsible person who shall provide for his safekeeping; provided, however, that the appearance at such examination or trial, or at the prosecution of the appeal of such child, shall be the responsibility of the court for which he is being held in safekeeping."

The statute is unambiguous. We must construe the statute as it is written. City Council of Peabody v. Board of Appeals of Peabody, 360 Mass. 867, 867, 277 N.E.2d 296 (1971). A statute's words must be accorded their plain and ordinary meaning, "considered in connection with the cause of its enactment, the preexisting state of the law, the mischief to be remedied and the main object to be accomplished." A. Belanger & Sons v. Joseph M. Concannon Corp., 333 Mass. 22, 25, 127 N.E.2d 670 (1955), quoting Brown v. Robinson, 275 Mass. 55, 57, 175 N.E.2d 269 (1931). The language of a statute is not to be enlarged or limited by construction unless its object and plain meaning require it. Johnson's Case, 318 Mass. 741, 747, 64 N.E.2d 94 (1945). The plain language of G.L. c. 119, § 68, first par., does not authorize the court to commit a juvenile to a county jail. We decline to engraft such an intent upon the clear language of the statute. See Mitchell v. Mitchell, 312 Mass. 154, 161, 43 N.E.2d 783 (1942).

The Commonwealth argues that the sheriff of Suffolk County could be the "other responsible person" within the meaning of G.L. c. 119, § 68, first par. Although this argument may be superficially appealing, its shallowness is readily apparent when viewed in light of the statute's history.

The origin of § 68 can be found in St.1870, c. 359, § 9, which provided: "A child arrested on any complaint referred to in the preceding sections may be held or committed to jail by the officer having said child in custody until the time appointed for the trial, unless admitted to bail ...." See Pub.St. (1882) c. 89, § 21 (virtually identical provision). The Revised Laws of 1902 contained virtually identical language and specifically prohibited the commitment to jail of a child under twelve years of age. R.L. 1902 c. 86, §§ 18, 20.

Section 68, as it appeared in St.1943, c. 244, § 2, provided that "[a] child between seven and fourteen years of age held by the court ... if unable to furnish bail shall be committed by the court to the care of the department or of a probation officer ...." 2 This statute additionally provided that "[a] child between fourteen and seventeen years of age so held by the court if unable to furnish bail shall be so committed to the department with its consent or to a probation officer, unless the court on immediate inquiry shall be of opinion that such child should be committed to jail ...." See also St.1955, c. 609, § 2 (virtually identical language); St.1956, c. 269 (adding language which placed on the court responsibility for ensuring a juvenile's appearance in court).

In 1969, the Legislature eliminated the distinction between children in the seven to fourteen years of age category and children in the fourteen to seventeen years of age category. More pointedly, the Legislature deleted the clause which provided a judge with discretionary authority to...

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    ... ... A statute is to be interpreted according to the plain and ordinary meaning of its words and their ordinary and approved usage. Rambert v. Commonwealth, ... Page 127 ... 389 Mass. 771, 773, 452 N.E.2d 222 (1983). Commonwealth v. Galvin, 388 Mass. 326, 328, 446 N.E.2d 391 (1983). It is most doubtful that the Legislature would have referred to "the trial jury" or "a new jury" (emphasis supplied) in a provision which was meant ... ...
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