Supreme Judicial Court (August 15, 2008)

Because fundamental liberty interests are not at stake, the Commonwealth's failure to file its petition for trial within the fourteen-day period specified by statute did not warrant dismissal of the Commonwealth's petition to commit the defendant as a sexually dangerous person (SDP) where the petition for trial was filed within the sixty-day critical commitment time frame.

The SDP statute, M.G.L. c. 123A, §13(a) provides that upon a finding of probable cause that a person is sexually dangerous, that person "shall be committed to the treatment center for a period not exceeding sixty days for the purpose of examination and diagnosis under the supervision of two qualified examiners (QEs) who shall, no later than fifteen days prior to the expiration of said period, file with the court a written report . . . ." Should the Commonwealth seek to proceed with commitment, §14(a) prescribes that a petition for trial "shall be made within 14 days of the filing of a report of the two qualified examiners. If such petition is timely filed within the allowed time, . . . a trial by jury will be held within 60 days to determine whether such person is a sexually dangerous person."

In this case, the defendant was committed to the treatment center for evaluation by two QEs following a probable cause hearing. Forty-three days later, the QEs filed their reports, finding the defendant sexually dangerous. The Commonwealth thereafter filed its petition for trial sixteen days after the QE reports were filed, but within the sixty days of the order of commitment. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss based on the Commonwealth's delay in filing its petition for trial within the statutory fourteen-day requirement set forth in §14(a). The SJC rejected the defendant's argument.

As set forth in Commonwealth v. Gross, 447 Mass. 691 (2006) the sixty-day deadline in §13(a) is "mandatory to protect a defendant's liberty interest, and any delay by the Commonwealth that results in a confinement exceeding sixty days is a violation of the statute." However, not all deadlines in the statute are intended to protect this interest. The SJC concluded that violations of the Commonwealth's fourteen-day deadline are analogous to violations of the qualified examiners' forty-five day deadline, where the two are designed to work together, as two component parts of the sixty-day period. "The larger sixty-day period is intended to protect the liberty interest of the defendant. The two smaller time periods within it collectively represent an allocation of that available time between the QEs and the Commonwealth, and are not individually intended to protect the liberty interest of the defendant. Therefore, ordinary violations of the fourteen-day deadline, like violations of the forty-five day deadline, do not result in prejudice to the defendant's liberty interest, and do not require dismissal [provided the petition is filed within the overall critical sixty-day time period.]