Superior Court Says No Speedy Trial Violation Where Police Fail to Appear in Court

by | Jun 9, 2008

In a not-so-shocking case issued on June 2, 2008, the Pennsylvania Superior Court holds that the failure of the Commonwealth to bring a defendant to trial in the Philadelphia Municipal Court within 180 days does not require dismissal of charges with prejudice.

In Commonwealth v. Staten, 2008 Pa. Super 118 (2008), the defendant was charged with knowing and intelligent possession of a controlled substance and buying from persons not authorized to sell, both crimes under the Pennsylvania Controlled Substances Act. At one of the court dates scheduled for trial a police officer was supposedly unavailable because he was “serving warrants”. The next trial listing was scheduled for 8 days past the 180 mechanical run date, and the defendant moved to dismiss based on a violation of Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure Rule 1013.

Applying a case which holds that where the Commonwealth brings a case to trial within 30 days of the run date, the charges should not be dismissed if the Commonwealth exercises due diligence in bringing the case to trial, Commonwealth v. Preston, 904 A.2d 1 (Pa. Super. 2006), the Court held that the government was diligent by completing discovery and announcing its readiness to proceed months in advance of the run date. The court noted that the police officer’s failure to appear in court was beyond the control of the Commonwealth and should not defeat the Commonwealth’s otherwise diligent efforts.

My question with this case is whether the Commonwealth issued a subpoena to the police officer to be present at trial, as there is no mention of that in the Court’s opinion. If there was no subpoena, it is no wonder why the police officer was out serving warrants instead of being in court. Had the attorney for the Commonwealth issued a subpoena, the officer would have had to be in court, and therefore there would have been diligence on the part of the Commonwealth. Without a subpoena, I am at a loss to understand how there was diligence in this case.

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