Supreme Judicial Court (April 4, 2007)

The defendant's subsequent bad behavior is cause for the Commonwealth to move for a case to be removed from file and call for sentencing.

The defendant pleaded guilty to 12 indictments involving robbery. The trial court sentenced him to concurrent terms of 8 to 12 years on 6 of the convictions, and placed the remaining 6 convictions "on file." After serving his sentences, the defendant was released, and soon thereafter was charged with a new armed robbery. At the arraignment on the new charge, the Commonwealth moved to have one of the filed indictments brought forward for sentencing. The motion was granted, and the defendant was subsequently sentenced to 18 to 20 years on that case.

The defendant appealed, arguing that removal and sentencing on the filed case violated his due process rights and was contrary to long-standing trial court practice. The Appeals Court agreed, and rejected the practice of imposing sentence on a previously filed indictment unless the defendant violated terms imposed by the court and agreed to him at the time the case was placed on file, or the defendant had successfully appealed a related conviction.

The SJC reversed the Appeals Court, noting that the practice of placing cases on file has a 200-year history in the Commonwealth and is a tool that often benefits defendants, who can expect to never be sentenced on the case if they remain free of trouble with the law. While affirming the authority of the trial courts to remove cases from the file and impose sentence, the SJC also noted that Massachusetts is the only state that retains this practice, and referred the issue to the Rules Committee of the SJC to study "the future of placing indictments on file, including the necessity of colloquy confirming consent and enunciating express expectations of good behavior."