Middlesex. Petition filed in the Superior Court on August 19, 1974. The case was heard by Linscott, J. After review was sought in the Appeals Court, the Supreme Judicial Court, on its own initiative, ordered direct appellate review.
Hennessey, C.j., Quirico, Braucher, Liacos, & Abrams, JJ.
Sex Offender. Constitutional Law, Sex offender.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Abrams
A petitioner who was committed for an indeterminate period as a sexually dangerous person under G. L. c. 123A, §§ 4, 5, was not unlawfully denied a speedy hearing under c. 123A, § 9, by the fact that there was a delay of over two years between the filing of his petition for discharge and the hearing where the petitioner was not prejudiced by the delay, no notice had been sent to the district attorney by the petitioner as required by § 9, and the delay was not intentional. [590-592]
In this proceeding the petitioner challenges his continued commitment to the treatment center at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Bridgewater (Bridgewater) as a sexually dangerous person (SDP) on the ground that the Superior Court failed to accord him a speedy hearing in violation of G. L. c. 123A, § 9, the Federal Constitution, and the Massachusetts Constitution. We conclude that the petitioner was not unlawfully denied a speedy hearing.
On March 20, 1973, the petitioner entered a plea of guilty to an indictment charging him with rape. The petitioner was committed to Bridgewater for a sixty-day period of observation. On June 19, 1973, after a hearing, a Judge of the Superior Court found him to be an SDP and ordered him committed to Bridgewater for an indeterminate period of from one day to life in lieu of sentence. G. L. c. 123A, §§ 4, 5.
On July 31, 1974, a senior psychiatrist at Bridgewater filed in the Superior Court a report in accordance with G. L. c. 123A, § 9, which recited "that there has been no progress of cure in this case." On August 19, 1974, the petitioner filed a petition for discharge which was docketed by the clerk's office. On May 17, 1976, an attorney was appointed to represent the petitioner. A motion for an independent psychiatric examination was filed on June 17, 1976, and allowed on June 21, 1976. A motion for discharge was also filed on June 17, 1976, but no action was taken on that motion at that time. In the early fall of 1976 two psychiatrists and the staff at Bridgewater filed reports. All of the reports concluded that the petitioner was still an SDP.
On October 28, 1976, a hearing was held on the motion for discharge. The motion requested a discharge from Bridgewater on the ground "hat the petitioner has been denied his rights under [c. 123A, § 9] specifically, but not exclusively limited to, his right to a speedy hearing under said section." After hearing the Judge denied the motion for discharge based on failure to provide a speedy hearing and denied the petitioner's request for discharge pursuant to § 9 on the merits.
Section 9 of c. 123A, as amended through St. 1966, c. 608, provides in pertinent part that "any person committed to the center, or a branch thereof, shall be entitled to have a hearing for examination and discharge once in every twelve months, upon the filing of a written petition . . . . A copy of said petition shall be sent to the district attorney . . . and to the parole board within fourteen days after the filing thereof. Said petition shall be filed in a superior court for the district in which said person was committed, and the court shall set a date for a speedy hearing."
The petitioner contends that the failure to provide him with a hearing on his 1974 petition within twelve months of its filing violated the requirement of a speedy hearing set forth in G. L. c. 123A, § 9, and requires his discharge. We disagree.
While § 9 requires that a speedy hearing be held, it clearly does not set an express time limitation within which the court must hold a reexamination hearing. Cf. G. L. c. 277, § 72A. The one-year period, rather than serving as an automatic criterion of whether a speedy hearing was provided, fixes a limitation on the number of hearings which an SDP may request.
Whether a petitioner was denied his right to a speedy hearing must be determined in the light of the purposes of the reexamination hearings and the procedures designed to implement the hearings.
"In construing the statute we are also mindful of its purposes which are to ascertain who are sexually dangerous persons for the protection of society, and to cure and rehabilitate them as soon as possible." LaMorre v. Superintendent of Bridgewater State Hosp., 347 Mass. 534, 538 (1964). The Legislature determined that an indefinite commitment from one day ...