In a recent slip opinion released by the Supreme Judicial Court, defendant Joseph Perella was relieved of charges of armed robbery stemming from an incident that occurred more than twelve years ago.
The relevant facts are as followed:
In January of 2000, the defendant entered a bank in Stoughton, wearing a scarf and hat that covered his face. He demanded money from the teller and left the bank. As he drove away, a bystander took down his license plate number and the police found a hat that linked the defendant to the robbery.
The police held the hat for seven years before conducting a DNA test in November of 2007. It was not until January of 2010 that the DNA results were sent to Stoughton. As a result of the test, the police were able to link the defendant to the hat directly and the bank robbery circumstantially.
In May of 2010, more than ten years from the anniversary of the robbery, the Commonwealth returned an indictment charging the defendant. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss in the Superior Court on the grounds that the ten-year statute of limitations for armed robbery, G.L. c. 265, § 17, had expired before the indictment was returned by the grand jury. The Commonwealth agreed that the statute of limitations had expired before the indictment was returned, but argued that the filing of the complaint, on January 19, 2010, effectively tolled the statute.
The Supreme Judicial Court agreed with the defendant, stating that although there are sections of M.G.L. c. 277 § 63 that refer to both an indictment and complaint tolling the statute of limitations for certain crimes, the statute for armed robbery was silent as to whether a complaint would toll the statute of limitations. The court reasoned that “[w]here the Legislature has employed specific language in one paragraph, but not in another, the language should not be implied where it is not present.” It further surmised that an indictment and a complaint are the products of two distinct procedures and are not interchangeable labels for the commencement of a criminal proceeding. The end result was the dropping of Perella’s criminal charges.
My initial reaction to this opinion was one of satisfaction. The work of Attorney Patrick Troy in his reading of §63 should be acknowledged and appreciated. As crazy as it is, this case came down to the absence of a single word in the instructing statute and Troy understood that.
My next reaction was that of disbelief that it took the Commonwealth over ten years to issue a complaint on an armed robbery charge. Being in possession of incriminating evidence and sitting on it for years has no place in our justice system. Three years seems like an awful long time to secure DNA results and goes as far as to call into question how aggressively law enforcement personnel is pursuing criminal leads.
All of this begs the question: How many crimes could be eliminated if police personnel investigated cases more diligently and ensured that people that SHOULD be in jail . . . ARE in jail?
Hat’s off to Perella, though. Just one more example of how a constable’s blunder equals another free crook.