DISCOVERY AND SPEEDY TRIAL RIGHTS IN CRIMINAL CASES

In Commonwealth v. Taylor, the defendant filed an appeal on the basis that his speedy trial rights have been violated because the prosecution did not file discovery in a reasonable period of time.  The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the defendant’s conviction of second-degree murder, and rejected his claim that the indictment should have been dismissed on speedy trial grounds, pursuant to Mass. R. Crim. P. 36(b).

The Court ruled that the Commonwealth had “met its burden of showing that [of the 614 days that elapsed between the defendant’s arraignment and the filing of his motion to dismiss,] at least 249 days were excludable from the speedy trial calculation, and that the defendant accordingly had been brought to trial within the requisite one-year period under rule 36. Because the defendant acquiesced in certain delays, failed to object to every continuance sought by the Commonwealth, did not press a motion under Mass. R. Crim. P. 14(a)(1)(C) … to compel production of mandatory discovery, and otherwise engaged in ordinary motion practice, we discern no error in the judge’s decision to deny the defendant’s motion to dismiss.” The Court emphasized that a defendant should object strenuously and unambiguously to the Commonwealth’s failure to provide mandatory discovery.  In this case, the defendant agreed to  many of the Commonwealth’s requests for continuances, although he “repeatedly stated that he was not waiving his client’s rule 36 rights.” This was not sufficient.  The defense “cannot preserve a defendant’s [speedy trial] rights simply by stating that those rights are not waived. A defendant must instead explicitly and formally object, on the record, to each and every proposed continuance or delay.” Specifically, “it is incumbent on defense counsel to combat rule 14 violations by filing a rule 14[(a)(1)(C)] motion for sanctions or to compel the production of missing discovery items.

The Court acknowledged that where the Commonwealth fails to produce mandatory discovery, the defendant is in a difficult position, because he must “choose between preserving his speedy trial rights and receiving all mandatory discovery well prior to trial. If a defendant moves to compel the missing discovery or agrees to a continuance requested by the Commonwealth, current case law dictates that he has stopped the speedy trial clock…. But if a defendant, to preserve his rule 36 rights, objects to any requested continuance or declines to file a motion to compel, he runs the risk that he will not receive all of the discovery he is owed before the trial date arrives.” In order to resolve this “tension” between rule 36 and rule 14, the Court announced the following new regimen: “[A] defendant seeking both to preserve his speedy trial rights and to obtain items of missing mandatory discovery must file a motion for sanctions or to compel pursuant to rule 14(a)(1)(C)…. [T]he time it takes to resolve [such a] motion shall not be excluded automatically from the ultimate speedy trial calculation.” The “the judge who hears [the] motion must determine on a case-by-case basis whether delays resulting from its resolution fairly should count towards the Commonwealth’s twelve-month timeline.”

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