Thursday, February 12, 2009

Murder Charge Dismissed on Speedy Trial Grounds

On February 11, 2009, the Court of Appeals decided People v. Anthony Romeo. In 1985, Mr. Romeo was linked via DNA evidence to a murder in Suffolk County. He was scheduled to turn himself in to police, but instead fled to Canada where he killed a Canadian constable. Mr. Romeo then returned to the United States where he was finally apprehended. Suffolk County officials took custody and indicted Mr. Romeo for the murder. In the meantime, Canadian officials also initiated proceedings and asked for extradition. The Suffolk County DA chose to defer prosecution. Mr. Romeo was returned to Canada over his many requests for arraignment on the Suffolk County charges. He was convicted in Canada, but Suffolk County never pursued its charges. Twelve years later, Mr. Romeo asked for the charges to be dismissed on speedy trial grounds.

The Court of Appeals analyzed the five Taranovich factors and agreed with the appellate division that Mr. Romeo's right to a speedy trial was violated (People v. Taranovich, 37 NY 2d 442). The five factors are:
"(1) the extent of the delay; (2) the reason for the delay; (3) the nature of the underlying charges; (4) any extended period of pretrial incarceration; and (5) any impairment of defendant's defense (see Taranovich, 37 NY2d at 445)".
Naturally, the application of the factors is highly case-specific, and it is worth reading the court's analysis on this issue, especially some helpful citations regarding whether the delay was "extraordinary" as a matter of law. Most noteworthy, however, was its discussion of the fifth factor which generally asks whether the defendant was prejudiced by the delay. On this subject, the court held:
"Here, it is highly likely that the defense was "impaired" (see Hooey, 393 US at 374) by defendant's incarceration for many years in a foreign prison where it would have been difficult for him to participate in his own defense, confer with counsel and contact witnesses. Defendant claims that he had psychiatric problems and might have presented a defense based on a lack of criminal responsibility by reason of mental disease or defect. This type of defense would have required defendant to establish his mental incapacity at the time of the offense. The ability to do this was clearly hampered by his incarceration abroad. "