Supreme Judicial Court (December 8, 2010)
Sanctions imposed for the violation of discovery obligations, pursuant to Mass. R.Crim. P. 14(c)(1), are limited to remedial measures aimed to cure prejudice and to ensure a fair trial, and as such, may not include punitive monetary penalties.
This case considered the legality of a judge's order that imposed both a $25,000 punitive sanction and attorney's fees on the Commonwealth for an alleged failure to comply with ex parte discovery orders issued pursuant to Mass. R.Crim. P. 14(c)(1).
In examining the scope of rule 14(c)(1), the Court noted that it had not previously reviewed whether it permits the imposition of punitive monetary sanctions. The Court applied two principles found in other cases involving judicial sanctions for discovery violations: 1) sanctions are remedial in nature; and 2) sanctions should be tailored appropriately to cure any prejudice resulting from a party's noncompliance and to ensure a fair trial.
The Court concluded that rule 14(c)(1) properly permits a judge to enter a broad range of orders in response to a failure to comply with discovery orders. The Court declined, however, to interpret rule 14(c)(1) to authorize monetary penalties imposed for punitive, rather than remedial, purposes.
The Court then reviewed each of the Commonwealth's alleged discovery violations and determined that the judge's findings as to all violations were clearly erroneous. Therefore, the Court remanded the case for a judgment vacating the sanctions order in its entirety.