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New York’s Speedy Trial Statute CPL 30.30: The People’s Statement of Readiness Harmed The Defendant

7324252_mlPeople v. Sibblies

New York Court of Appeals

Decided April 8, 2014

2014 NY Slip Op 02377

Summary: where the People declare themselves ready “off calendar” and then on the next court date announce that they are not ready, they must demonstrate that some exceptional fact or circumstance arose after their declaration of readiness “off calendar” to render them not ready for trial.  If no exceptional circumstance can be shown then the time between the “off calendar” statement of readiness and the following “in court” statement of not ready will be charged to the People.  The court may hold a hearing on the issue of the exceptional circumstance.

Issue: Whether the period of time between an off-calendar declaration of readiness for trial by the People and their statement of unreadiness at the next court appearance may be excluded from the statutory speedy trial period under CPL 30.30 and whether the prosecution violated the statutory speedy trial time when they announced readiness between court dates by way of a readiness statement sent to the defendant and then on the next court date announced that they were not ready

Holding:  We would hold that such a period of prosecutorial readiness may not be excluded from the speedy trial period unless the People’s unreadiness is occasioned by an exceptional fact or circumstance.People did not meet their CPL 30.30 speedy trial obligation to be timely ready for trial and, as a result, the misdemeanor information should be dismissed.

Facts: Defendant was arrested on November 27, 2006 and charged with various felony and misdemeanor offenses. On February 8, 2007, the People moved to dismiss the only felony charge and replaced the felony complaint with a misdemeanor information. The filing of the misdemeanor information started the 90-day statutory speedy trial period for the People to declare readiness for trial. On February 22, 2007, the People filed an off-calendar certificate of readiness and a supporting deposition.

Eight days later, on March 2, 2007, the People requested the medical records of the officer injured in the altercation. On March 28, 2007, the next scheduled control date; the People told the court that they were not ready:

The People did not file a second certificate of readiness until May 23, 2007, 104 days after the speedy trial period began to run. At the following control date, the case was adjourned so that counsel could file the motion to dismiss the misdemeanor information under CPL 30.30 that is the subject of this appeal.

Supreme Court denied the motion, apparently excluding the 34 days between the People’s declaration of readiness and the March 28 appearance from the 104-day period. The case proceeded to trial. Defendant was convicted of obstructing governmental administration in the second degree and resisting arrest but was acquitted of assault in the third degree.

The People must be ready to try a defendant accused of a misdemeanor within 90 days of commencement of the action and maintain readiness thereafter (CPL 30.30 [1] [b]. To be ready, the People must (1) declare in open court that they are ready or file an off-calendar certificate of readiness and serve it on defense counsel, and (2) “in fact be ready to proceed at the time they declare readiness” (People v Chavis, 91 NY2d 500, 505 [1998]).

Legal Analysis: Readiness requires more than simply “mouthing” the words (People v England, 84 NY2d 1, 4-5 [1994]). “The inquiry is whether the People have done all that is required of them to bring the case to a point where it may be tried”.

Where the People’s statement of readiness has effectively harmed defendant by delaying the running of the statutory period under CPL 30.30 then the time between an out of court statement of readiness and an in court statement of not ready by the People will be charged to the People under CPL 30.30.

Where the People fail to declare readiness within the statutory period, a defendant may move to dismiss the accusatory instrument (CPL 170.30 [1] [e]). The defendant bears the initial burden of demonstrating that the People were not ready within 90 days (see People v Santos, 68 NY2d 859, 861 [1986]). The burden then shifts to the People to establish that a period should be excluded in computing the time within which they were required to be prepared for trial.

In this case, defendant has met her burden; the People were not ready within 90 days.

If the defendant cannot ask for a trial, the People’s readiness has served effectively to harm the defendant by delaying the running of the statutory period. But CPL 30.30 demands prosecutorial readiness, not for its own sake, but to reduce delays in criminal prosecutions.

If challenged, the People must demonstrate that some exceptional fact or circumstance arose after their declaration of readiness so as to render them presently not ready for trial. The requirement of an exceptional fact or circumstance should be the same as that contained in CPL 30.30 (3) (b), which “preserves for the People such portion of the readiness period . . . as remained available when readiness was originally declared, in the limited situation where ‘some exceptional fact or circumstance,’ [including, but not limited to, the sudden unavailability of evidence material to the people’s case, occurring after the initial readiness response], makes it impossible for the People to proceed” (Anderson, 66 NY2d at 534 [quoting CPL 30.30 (3) (b)]).

The court may hold a hearing on the issue. If the People cannot demonstrate an exceptional fact or circumstance, then the People should be considered not to have been ready when they filed the off-calendar certificate, and the time between the filing and the following appearance cannot be excluded and should be charged to them.

Allowing, without scrutiny, declarations of readiness off-calendar and subsequent declarations of unreadiness at the next appearance creates the possibility that this scenario could be reenacted ad seriatim. But CPL 30.30 is not a mechanism for filibustering trials.

In this case, the People’s unreadiness, while declared in good faith, was not due to the type of “exceptional fact or circumstance” contemplated by CPL 30.30 (3) (b). It was not occasioned by, for example, the sudden unavailability of a material witness or material evidence. As a result, the 34-day period from the People’s off-calendar declaration of readiness to their in-court statement of unreadiness is chargeable to the People. The People therefore did not declare readiness within the 90-day statutory period.

Stephen Preziosi is a criminal appeals lawyer in New York City’s Times Square.  His firm handles both New York Criminal Appeals and Federal Criminal Appeals throughout the nation.