Supreme Judicial Court, February 1, 2013

Chapter 277, § 63 requires the filing of an indictment within the ten-year limitations period for armed robbery, G.L. c. 265, § 17, and the filing of a complaint within the limitations period, and the return of an indictment outside of that period, does not constitute timely commencement of the criminal proceeding.

The defendant committed an armed robbery on January 20, 2000.  After almost ten years, the DNA on a piece of evidence found linked the defendant to the crime.  On January 19, 2010, a criminal complaint was filed in the District Court charging the defendant with the armed robbery. On May 12, 2010, more than ten years after the date of the armed robbery, a grand jury returned an indictment against the defendant for that offense.  The defendant filed a motion to dismiss in the Superior Court arguing that the ten-year statute of limitations for armed robbery, G.L. c. 265, § 17, had expired before the indictment was returned by the grand jury. The Commonwealth agreed that the statute of limitations had expired before the indictment was returned, but argued that, by the filing of the complaint on January 19, 2010, the statute of limitations was tolled. The judge ordered the case dismissed with prejudice concluding that the statute of limitations required an indictment to be issued and filed within ten years from the date of the offense. The Commonwealth appealed, and the Supreme Judicial Court allowed the Commonwealth's application for direct appellate review.

Chapter 277, §63 reads in part:

"An indictment for an offense set forth in sections 17, 18, 19 and 21 of said chapter 265 or section 17 of chapter 272, for conspiracy to commit any such crime, as an accessory thereto, or any 1 or more of them may be found and filed within 10 years after the date of commission of such offense.

Focusing on the specific language of the statue the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the lower courts order dismissing the indictment against the defendant ruling that “…where the Legislature has specifically provided that an indictment must be found and filed for purposes of framing the time within which a specified criminal charge must be brought, the filing of a complaint will not toll a statute of limitations.”