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Massachusetts Supreme Court Announces When Clock Begins to Run on Statutory Pretrial Detention

by Harold Hempstead

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts held that the pretrial detention period in General Laws c. 276, § 58B begins to run when a defendant is detained, not when an order of detention is formally issued.

On December 26, 2021, while Chayanne Velazquez was on bail on cases he had pending in the Boston Municipal Court (“BML”) and the Superior Court in Middlesex County (“SCMC”), he “allegedly committed an assault and battery….”. He was arraigned on the new charge on February 2, 2022, in the Lynn Division of the District Department (“Lynn District Court”). The Commonwealth filed motions in the Lynn District Court, requesting pretrial detention for Velazquez on his new case, GLC 276, § 58A, that his bail be revoked, and that he be detained on the cases he had pending in the BML and the SCMC. § 58B.

The arraignment judge found that probable cause existed under § 58A to detain Velazquez without bail until the court heard arguments on the Commonwealth’s motions. At the February 8, 2022, hearing on the motions, the judge ordered Velazquez be detained until June 8, 2022, (120 days) on the Lynn District Court case (§ 58A) and until May 9, 2022, (90 days) on his BML and SCMC cases. The judge entered the 90-day detention date on the docket as starting on February 2, 2022.

On April 7, 2022, the Lynn District Court charge was dismissed, and Velazquez motioned the court to reconsider its order revoking his bail on his other cases. The court denied his motions and his request to have the record corrected to show that his 90-day detention period started on his arraignment date, not on the date that the final order was issued.

Velazquez sought extraordinary relief pursuant to G.L.C. 211, § 3 in the county court. A Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court transferred the petition to a Justice of the Appeals Court. That Justice granted Velazquez’s requested relief and “reported the case to a panel of that court.” The Supreme Judicial Court granted Velazquez’s application for direct appellate review to address the question of whether the 90-day pretrial period in § 58B begins to run when a defendant is detained or from when an order of detention is issued.

The Court observed that the sentence at issue in § 58B reads, “A person detained under this subsection, shall be brought to trial as soon as reasonably possible, but in the absence of good cause, a person so held shall not be detained for a period exceeding ninety days excluding any period of delay as defined in [Mass. R. Crim. P. 36(b)(2), 378 Mass. 909 (1979)].”

The Court held that the 90-day clock starts to run from the date of detention. It explained that the rationale for this position is that the 90-day detention period in § 58B “balance[s] the liberty interest of individuals presumed innocent against public safety concerns posed by high-risk defendants [in that] it is ‘temporary and provisional’ and ‘the trial itself provides an inevitable end point to the state’s preventative authority.’” Mushwaalakbar v. Commonwealth, 169 N.E.3d 184 (Mass. 2021).

The Court noted that its holding is consistent with its decision in Commonwealth v. Lougee, 147 N.E.3d 464 (Mass. 2020), wherein it explained “by stating … that persons held in pretrial detention  ‘shall be brought to trial as soon as reasonably possible,’ the Legislature declared its intent that pretrial detainees be given priority when there is a queue of criminal cases awaiting trial” and that “this sentence sets a presumptive time limit for such cases to be brought to trial – [ninety days].”

The Court explained that this is the only interpretation of § 58B that is consistent with the principles of statutory construction, the Legislature’s intent concerning § 58B, and the rule of lenity. See Josh J. v. Commonwealth, 89 N.E.3d 1123 (Mass. 2018); Abbott A. Commonwealth, 933 N.E.2d 936 (Mass. 2010); Lougee.

Accordingly, the Court affirmed the order of the Appeals Court single justice allowing the petition for extraordinary relief. See: Velazquez v. Commonwealth, 201 N.E.3d 1250 (Mass. 2023). 

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