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Charbonneau v. Presiding Justice of the Holyoke Division of the District Court Department

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

January 22, 2016

Joshua Charbonneau
v.
Presiding Justice of the Holyoke Division of the District Court Department

Argued October 8, 2015.

Civil action commenced in the Supreme Judicial Court for the county of Suffolk on May 13, 2015.

The case was reported by Botsford, J.

Paul R. Rudof, Committee for Public Counsel Services ( Ryan M. Schiff, Committee for Public Counsel Services, with him) for the plaintiff.

Susanne G. Reardon, Assistant Attorney General, for the defendant.

William C. Newman, Chauncey B. Wood, & Joseph N. Schneiderman, for American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts & another, amici curiae, submitted a brief.

Present: Gants, C.J., Spina, Cordy, Botsford, Duffly, Lenk, & Hines, JJ.

OPINION

Hines, J.

In this appeal, we determine whether a standing order of the Holyoke Division of the District Court Department (Holyoke District Court), prohibiting the tender of a so-called " defendant-capped" plea on the day of trial, contravenes the guilty plea procedure mandated in G. L. c. 278, § 18, and Mass. R. Crim. P. 12, as appearing in 442 Mass. 1511 (2004). Joshua Charbonneau, who stands charged in the Holyoke District Court with larceny over $250, challenges the standing order on statutory and constitutional grounds. He contends that the standing order violates his

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right to tender a defendant-capped plea at any time prior to trial because neither G. L. c. 278, § 18, nor Mass. R. Crim. P. 12 imposes a time limit on such tenders. He also asserts that the judicially imposed time limit unconstitutionally burdens his right to due process. We conclude that the standing order conflicts with and impairs a defendant's right to tender a defendant-capped plea as provided in G. L. c. 278, § 18, and Mass. R. Crim. P. 12. Consequently, we vacate the standing order on that ground and bypass Charbonneau's constitutional claim.[1]

1. Background.

On February 19, 2015, the presiding justice of the Holyoke District Court[2] (presiding justice) promulgated a standing order applicable to trials beginning with the June, 2015, jury-of-six session. In accordance with the standing order, a defendant who intended to proffer a defendant-capped plea was required to do so at the final pretrial status conference, which, in the Holyoke District Court, is scheduled for the Wednesday two weeks prior to trial.[3] After this deadline, the court would only consider a so-called " Commonwealth-capped" plea on the day of trial.

In response to concerns expressed by the defense bar, the presiding justice issued an " Amended Standing Judicial Order of the Holyoke District Court" on March 31, 2015, extending the time during which a defendant could tender a defendant-capped plea. The fifth paragraph of the amended standing order provides that " the [c]ourt will allow a defendant-capped plea at any time during the case until 2:00 p.m. the day prior to the scheduled trial by judge or jury." The seventh paragraph of the amended standing order further provides that " [t]he [c]ourt will continue to accept unagreed pleas on the day of trial[. H]owever, the pleas will be Commonwealth-capped pleas on the day of trial and the defendant will not be allowed to withdraw a plea ...


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