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State v. Robinson

Superior Court of Rhode Island, Providence

August 29, 2018

STATE OF RHODE ISLAND
v.
ETHAN ROBINSON

          For Plaintiff: Katelyn M. Revens, Esq.

          For Defendant: Thomas G. Briody, Esq.

          DECISION

          MCGUIRL, J.

         Before this Court is Defendant Ethan Robinson's (Defendant) Motion to Dismiss in which Defendant argues that he was denied his right to a speedy trial. The State of Rhode Island (State) objects to the instant motion. For the reasons stated herein, this Court denies Defendant's motion. Jurisdiction is pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 8-2-14.

         I

         Facts and Travel

         Defendant was arrested by the Rhode Island State Police on September 28, 2011 and charged with one count of possessing child pornography. The police seized evidence from Defendant's home, questioned Defendant, and recorded statements from Defendant and a witness. Defendant was presented in District Court on the same day and released on $10, 000 personal recognizance with special conditions that prohibited him from contacting children under eighteen years old and using the internet, except for employment purposes. On August 6, 2012, approximately ten months after the presentment, Defendant moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of prosecution. The District Court granted Defendant's motion on August 17, 2012.[1]

         On June 17, 2013-approximately twenty-one months after Defendant was first arrested-the Attorney General filed the above-captioned information in Superior Court, charging Defendant with possession and distribution of child pornography. A pre-arraignment conference was scheduled on July 23, 2013, but Defendant failed to appear. Records indicate that on June 18, 2013, the Superior Court Case Scheduling Office at the Licht Judicial Complex mailed a Notice of Court Appearance for the July 23, 2013 court date to Defendant at an Erie Street, Providence address. At some time after mailing the notice to that address, the letter was returned to the Case Scheduling Office at the Licht Judicial Complex and a sticker on the envelope stated "RETURN TO SENDER NOT DELIVERABLE AS ADDRESSED UNABLE TO FORWARD." Defendant also failed to appear for his arraignment on July 30, 2013, and a bench warrant was issued. It is unclear whether the State attempted to notify Defendant about the July 30, 2013 court date or that a warrant had been issued.

         On October 13, 2016, a little under thirty-nine months after the warrant was issued, Defendant turned himself in and the warrant was cancelled. Defendant was arraigned at that time and released on the same conditions as he was following his previous presentment- $10, 000 personal recognizance, a prohibition on contact with children under eighteen years old, and using the internet except for employment purposes. A pretrial conference was scheduled for November 7, 2016, but Defendant requested and was granted a continuance of that date. On November 21, 2016, Defendant moved for supervised contact with his minor nephew, which this Court granted. The pretrial conference was rescheduled for January 18, 2017; however, Defendant again requested and was granted a continuance. On February 15, 2017, the pretrial conference was continued again at the request of Defendant. The matter was conferenced for the first time on March 6, 2017, during which Defendant provided the State with a Psychological

         Evaluation/Sexual Risk Assessment. During that hearing, Defendant also argued for an amendment to the offense that would not require him to register as a sex offender.

         Defendant filed the instant motion to dismiss almost six months after his arraignment in Superior Court on April 4, 2017. The State requested and was granted a continuance so that it could respond on April 13, 2017. The State filed its objection and memorandum in support of its objection on May 4, 2017. A pretrial conference was held on June 1, 2017. The State and Defendant provided supplemental memoranda relating to the instant motion to dismiss on July 3, 2017 and July 21, 2017, respectively.

         II

         Parties' Arguments

         Defendant claims that his right to a speedy trial was violated by the period of approximately five years between his presentment on the initial complaint (September 28, 2011) and his arraignment on the instant complaint (October 13, 2016). He asserts that the reason for the delay was entirely the State's fault because he did not receive notice of either the pre-arraignment conference date or that a warrant was issued, and that the State made no effort to find him during that period. Defendant states that he was unaware of the charges against him for most of that time. Finally, Defendant suggests that he was prejudiced by the delay itself and that he does not need to prove actual prejudice. To the extent he does need to show specific instances of prejudice, he submits that a witness who could assist in his defense is now unwilling to cooperate and resides out of the state, and that the other witnesses' memories have faded.

         The State in turn argues that Defendant's right to a speedy trial has not been violated. The State contends that the period between the dismissal of the initial complaint on August 17, 2012 and Defendant's arraignment in the instant matter on October 13, 2016 may not be used to calculate the length of delay. The State reasons that there were no criminal charges pending against Defendant and that the previous personal recognizance and accompanying restrictive orders were no longer in effect during that time. The State also argues that there is no evidence that the delay was due to the government's deliberate actions and that some of the delay is attributable to Defendant himself. Further, the State advances that any government negligence in executing the warrant is not dispositive and that Defendant needs to prove specific prejudice caused by the delay.

         III

         Standard of Review

         The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that "[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial." U.S. CONST. amend. VI. The Rhode Island Constitution similarly guarantees this right. R.I. CONST. art. I, § 10 (declaring that "[i]n all criminal prosecutions, accused persons shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial"); State v. Zmayefski, 836 A.2d 191, 194 (R.I. 2003). The United States Supreme Court has noted that:

"The speedy trial guarantee is designed to minimize the possibility of lengthy incarceration prior to trial, to reduce the lesser, but nevertheless substantial, impairment of liberty imposed on an accused while released on bail, and to shorten the disruption of life caused by arrest and the presence of unresolved criminal charges." United States v. Loud Hawk, ...

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