When the Government Violates Your Rights
Living in an organized society means accepting the rule of law that establishes what behavior is and is not acceptable. As an example, one understands that is not permitted to take another’s life, and that, if he/she does, he/she will face the consequences of imprisonment, for perhaps the rest of his/her natural life, up to the possibility of death in certain places. When one is accused of violating a law, or committing a crime, having an attorney experienced in criminal defense law is crucial. However, things become a bit difficult if it is the government who violates the law, and, as a result, an individual is potentially facing consequences. Recently, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ordered the acquittal of a Massachusetts man accused of operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol (OUI) because the Massachusetts State Police waited nine days before citing the man for the violation. A discussion of this holding, and what it means for the defendant when the government violates the law, will follow below.
According to Massachusetts law, law enforcement officers are required to issue any citations “at the time and place of the violation.” While exceptions are provided, even if an exception is applicable, the citation should be served as quickly as reasonably possible. Further, the law holds that, if no exception exists, the failure to provide a citation at that time shall act as a defense in any subsequent criminal proceeding.
In this case, the State Police waited nine days before serving the OUI citation on the defendant. According to the government, the law enforcement officer had to wait until his supervisor approved the citation. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the lower court’s ruling, which held that, although the law was violated, it was not done with malice. When it reversed, the Supreme Judicial Court noted that the law is clear, and, further, that the State Police should review their procedures to ensure that this does not happen again.
It should be pointed out that the violated law is also known as a “No Fix” law, and was enacted in 1965 as a way of preventing corrupt law enforcement agencies from passing a possible legal violation up the chain of command in an effort to have the offense “fixed,” or erased. Basically, this type of law serves to ensure citations are issued legitimately, but also to prevent delays designed to stymie prosecution of crimes.
In all criminal matters in the United States, defendants have the right to both due process and a speedy trial, and the ramifications of the lower court’s ruling show the state could have deprived the defendant of both rights. Although some may assert that nine days is not a lot of time, time can, in fact, compromise evidence and make it unusable at trial. As it is now, bringing a criminal matter to trial is a long and drawn-out process, so any addition to that time period can have an effect on, for example, a witness’ memory.
Further, with regard to the right to a speedy trial, it is important to note that this right is enshrined in the Constitution as a guarantee to prevent exactly what occurred here – that being, the prosecution holding the threat of criminal action against a potential defendant indefinitely. Concerning due process, which ensures that all criminal defendants have all legal rights accorded to him/her, violating this law by the State Police puts the defendant at a disadvantage when exercising his/her right to mount a suitable defense against the charges.
Seek Legal Advice
If you, or a loved one, have been charged with commission of a crime, and you believe that your rights were violated by the government, speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. The attorneys at Leontire & Associates, P.C. have the experience necessary to analyze your case and work to ensure any charges against you are mitigated, or dismissed. Contact our Boston office today.