Criminal Appeals Bureau Wins Significant Victory in Speedy Trial Case

Last year, the New York Times published a four-part series about staggering court delays in criminal cases in Bronx County. William Glaberson, “Justice Denied: Inside the Bronx’s Dysfunctional Court System,” New York Times, 4/13/13,

Among other issues, the series highlighted how ineffectual C.P.L. §30.30, the State’s Speedy Trial statue, had become in combating these delays. The statute sets deadlines – six months in felony cases, 90 days in more serious misdemeanor cases, 60 days in other misdemeanor cases and 30 days in cases involving violations – in which the prosecution must be ready for trial, but, through various procedural gambits, these deadlines had been rendered largely irrelevant.

On April 8, 2014, in People v. Marsha Sibblies, a case litigated by the Criminal Appeals Bureau, the New York Court of Appeals unanimously reversed our client’s conviction and dismissed the case against her, while, at the same time, placing strict limits on one frequently employed prosecution tactic that served effectively to circumvent speedy trial limitations. Specifically, in Ms. Sibblies’s case as in many others, the prosecution filed a certificate stating that the were ready to proceed to trial on a date that the case was not on the court calendar. The statute authorizes such off-calendar readiness declarations. When the case next appeared in court, however, the prosecution acknowledged that it was not ready to go forward because it had yet to obtain medical records, materials it deemed essential to proceed to trial. Chief Judge Lippman, in an opinion joined by two other judges, described this common phenomenon as “readiness in the air, without readiness on the ground.” Nonetheless, the lower courts had declined to “charge” the prosecution with the time between their out-of-court claim of supposed readiness and their in court admission that they were not ready at all. In unanimously disagreeing, the Court of Appeals, in two three-judge concurring opinions, held that, in this frequently recurring situation, the prosecution, at the least, would be obliged to identify an actual change in circumstances explaining why they were ready when the case was not on the calendar, but not ready when the case was before the court. To hold otherwise, would turn C.P.L. §30.30 into a “mechanism for filibustering trials.” Because the prosecution failed to make the required showing, the Court dismissed the case.

Ms. Sibblies had been convicted of obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest. Jonathan Garelick successfully handled the case in the Court of Appeals. Here is a link to the full Court of Appeals decision: