Supreme Judicial Court (March 3, 2009)

A Superior Court Judge may dismiss an indictment over the Commonwealth's objection, after accepting a guilty plea by continuing a case without a finding and imposing conditions.

The defendant pleaded guilty to indictments charging unarmed burglary. The judge accepted the defendant's guilty plea and "in the interests of justice" placed the case on file without entering a guilty finding with a three year period of probation and conditions. The judge indicated that the case would be dismissed if the defendant complied with the imposed conditions of probation. The Commonwealth filed a motion for clarification because although the docket entry stated the case was "filed with no guilty finding entered," the judge's disposition memorandum noted that the judge accepted a guilty plea and placed the case on file. The judge ruled the docket entry was correct and no guilty finding had entered.

After completing all the terms of probation, the defendant sought dismissal of the indictment. The Commonwealth moved to vacate the termination of probation and discharge and renewed a motion for the entry of a guilty finding and sentencing. After a hearing the judge dismissed the indictment. The Commonwealth filed a notice of appeal and the Supreme Judicial Court allowed the defendant's application for direct appellate review.

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that a Court may not place an indictment on file without the consent of the Commonwealth; however, the judge's disposition in this case was essentially a continuance without a finding because the judge declined to enter a guilty finding, and delayed the dismissal of the case, which was conditioned on terms of probation. "Accordingly, unless the statutory language of the charged offense prohibits it, the dismissal of an indictment in the interest of justice after a guilty plea and after the satisfaction of conditions remains a viable disposition in the Superior Court."

Note: In FN9 the Court warns, "[t]he use of such dispositions, over the Commonwealth's objection, in cases pending before the Superior Court (which disposes of the most serious criminal matters), ought to be issued sparingly. In such cases, the judge's reasons should be, as here, fully explained."