CRIMINAL LAW

Speedy Trial • Due Process • Reasonable Delay before Trial

Commonwealth v. Colon, PICS Case No. 14-0422 (Pa. Super. March 7, 2014) Allen, J. (17 pages).

Where commonwealth failed to exercise reasonable efforts to bring a criminal defendant to trial within 365 days of the filing of the complaint, charges should have been dismissed despite defendant’s failure to object to the delay. Reversed and vacated.

Appellant appeals from the judgment of sentence imposed after conviction for forgery, identity theft, and tampering with public records. The charges were filed against appellant on Oct. 19, 2009; due to appellant’s incarceration for prior offenses, he was not arraigned until July 20, 2011. Appellant requested five continuances between Aug. 4, 2011 and May 4, 2012, and was formally arraigned on June 22, 2012. Appellant changed attorneys on Aug. 9, 2012. Appellant motioned to dismiss for violation of his speedy trial rights on Oct. 12, 2012, which was denied by the trial court after hearing on Oct. 15, 2012; a trial was conducted on the same day, and appellant was found guilty of all charges.

Appellant challenged the trial court’s denial of his motion to dismiss for violation of his speedy trial rights. Appellant argued that the commonwealth violated Pa.R.Crim.P. 600 by failing to bring him to trial within 365 days of filing the criminal complaint.

The court noted that Rule 600 was adopted in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Barker v. Wingo, which adopted a four-factor balancing test in determining whether a criminal defendant’s right to a speedy trial had been violated. Rule 600 and its bright line 365-day limit were adopted to address “inherent vagueness” resulting from the Barker test; however, the court further noted that a criminal defendant could assert his right to a speedy trial either by first proving a violation of Rule 600, or, second, proving a violation, via the Barker test, of the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Art. 1, §9 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

The court noted that Rule 600 required, after the filing of a complaint, that a criminal defendant be brought to trial within 365 days, not including any time between the filing of the complain and the arrest if defendant could not be found or any period of delay cause by the unavailability of defendant or his attorney or any continuance granted at the request of defendant or his attorney, or any delay beyond the control of the commonwealth after the exercise of due diligence.

The court found that defendant’s trial did not commence until nearly three years after the filing of the complaint, and that although defendant requested nearly 14 and a half months of continuances, that did not occur until after 365 days after the filing of the complaint. The court further found that any delay by commonwealth during the 365-day period was not excusable, as commonwealth appeared to make no effort to bring appellant to trial while he was incarcerated in a state correctional facility.

The court also rejected the ruling of the trial court that appellant was not entitled to dismissal because the commonwealth’s violation of Rule 600 did not amount to actual misconduct, because appellant was not entitled to relief under the Barker test, and because appellant did not challenge the delay at the earliest opportunity. The court held that it was not relevant whether or not there existed misconduct on the part of commonwealth, and held that was it not relevant whether or not the delay violated the Barker test if a violation of Rule 600 occurred. The court also held that appellant had no duty to object to a violation of Rule 600 as long as he did not approve or accept it.