Supreme Judicial Court, January 13, 2014

In this case, the SJC considered the appropriate remedy for a defendant who, because of a delay in the issuance of a judge's decision, is subject to continued confinement.

The defendant’s jury-waived trial to determine whether he was a sexually dangerous person (SDP) concluded on February 18, 2010.  At that time, defense counsel asked for additional time to provide a written statement, proposed findings of facts, and rulings of law.  The judge granted an extension to defense counsel until March 12th and the Commonwealth until March 19th.  The trial judge did not render a decision until July 30, 2010, which is outside the 30 days specified in Commonwealth v. Blake,  454 Mass. 267 (2009) (absent extraordinary circumstances a judge, in a jury-waived SDP trial, should issue a decision within thirty-days of the end of the trial).  

While there may be situations that dismissal is warranted for a violation of Blake 's thirty-day deadline, it was not warranted in this case where there has been no showing of a due process violation or prejudice to the defendant.  The Court also held that offering the defendant a new trial was not appropriate because the delay in issuing the decision did not affect his procedural rights, the fairness of his trial, or the trial judge's decision or findings of fact.  

Next the Court considered an alternative remedy and concluded that if the trial-judge has not issued a decision thirty days after the end of a jury-waived trial, a defendant may “move for a prompt decision and supervised release while the matter remains under advisement and until a decision issues regarding sexual dangerousness.   The judge should consider, inter alia, whether extraordinary circumstances are present that justify the delay; whether the defendant is likely to be prejudiced by any delay and continued confinement until a determination is made; and whether, in balancing the public's interests against those of the defendant, any conditions of release would allow the defendant to be released safely pending issuance of a decision.”  The judge can order conditions to ensure the safety of the public and require a return to confinement if the conditions are violated.  The motion for prompt decision and release should be expeditiously heard and decided.
Last, the Court held that in order to assist the trial judges with rendering a decision within the 30 days, “under narrow conditions, a judge may issue a memorandum of decision first, with findings of fact, conclusions of law, and entry of judgment to follow promptly thereafter, if the judge determines that doing so is necessary so that a decision may issue within thirty days of the conclusion of trial.”