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State v. MacDonough

Superior Court of Delaware

January 12, 2018

STATE OF DELAWARE,
v.
ROBERT A. MACDONOUGH, Defendant.

          Submitted: November 13, 2017

         On Defendant's Amended Motion to Dismiss.[1] DENIED.

          William H. Leonard, Esquire, Deputy Attorney General, Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware, Attorney for the State.

          Jason R. Antoine, Esquire, Wilmington, Delaware, Attorney for Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          COOCH, R.J.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Pending before this Court is Defendant's motion to dismiss. This case arises out of a fatal car accident allegedly caused by Defendant. Defendant was cited at the time of the accident with Failure to Stop at a Red Light, which Defendant resolved through Probation Before Judgment ("PBJ") in Justice of the Peace Court Nine ("JP Ct. 9"). Nine months later, Defendant was indicted on an Operation of a Vehicle Causing Death charge. The indictment alleged that Defendant drove negligently by disregarding a red light. Two months later, Defendant was re-indicted on the same charge, but on a different theory of negligence, in that the re-indictment charged Defendant with the negligence of Careless Driving.

         Defendant argues that the present indictment before this Court should be dismissed for two reasons. First, Defendant argues, pursuant to Superior Court Criminal Rule 48(b), that the State caused an unnecessary delay in bringing Defendant to trial and as a result caused Defendant prejudice. Second, Defendant contends that the re-indictment for Operation of a Vehicle Causing Death is barred by the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment of the United Stated Constitution and Article I, § 8 of the Delaware Constitution.

         The indictment of Defendant for Operation of a Vehicle Causing Death will not be dismissed because the Court concludes that there was no unnecessary delay attributable to the State under Superior Court Criminal Rule 48(b). Also, this Court holds that prosecution of the Operation of a Vehicle Causing Death in the reindictment charge is not precluded by the Double Jeopardy Clause of either the Federal or Delaware Constitutions because jeopardy did not attach when Defendant elected PBJ in JP Ct. 9. Defendant's motion to dismiss is therefore denied.

         II. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On July 1, 2016, Defendant drove his vehicle through a red light and collided with another vehicle.[2] The driver of the other vehicle was Leyland S. Reffett ("the victim").[3] Although the victim was conscious at the scene of the accident, when police arrived, he was transported to a hospital where he died.[4] An autopsy revealed that the cause of death was blunt force trauma as a result of the collision.[5]

         The state trooper who responded to the scene of the accident interviewed Defendant.[6] Defendant said he did not remember what happened after he entered the intersection and collided with the victim's car, nor did he remember whether his traffic light was red or green.[7] The trooper also interviewed eyewitnesses to the accident who stated that they witnessed Defendant run the red light and strike the victim's car.[8] The trooper assessed his findings at the scene and issued Defendant a citation for "Failure to Stop at a Red Light."[9]

         At some point soon after he issued the citation to Defendant, the trooper learned that the victim had died as a result of the accident.[10] The trooper informed the Delaware State Police Collision Reconstruction Unit of this fact which then began a vehicular fatality investigation.[11]

         Defendant pled guilty to Failure to Obey a Traffic Device charge in violation of 21 Del. C. § 4107 in JP Ct. 9 and elected PBJ, on August 22, 2016.[12] JP Ct. 9 then later "enter[ed] an order discharging [Defendant] from probation" after Defendant completed PBJ.[13]

         On September 16, 2016, an officer interviewed Defendant again, at which time Defendant stated that he could not remember whether the traffic light was red or yellow.[14] The officer informed Defendant that the officer would communicate with the State regarding the pursuit of additional charges against Defendant, and advising Defendant that he could be charged with Operation of a Vehicle Causing Death.[15]

         On April 17, 2017, a grand jury indicted Defendant for Operation of a Vehicle Causing Death.[16] The indictment alleged that Defendant caused the Victim's death by Failing to Obey a Traffic Device.[17]

         At the time of Defendant's first case review on June 5, 2017, the State informed defense counsel that the State intended to re-indict Defendant on the same charge of Operation of a Vehicle Causing Death, but on the negligence theory of careless driving.[18] On June 12, 2017, a grand jury returned the present re-indictment to this effect against Defendant.[19]

         Defendant filed two continuance requests in July of 2017.[20] Defendant's July 7, 2017 continuance request for trial and final case review sought additional time to file motions and review discovery.[21] Defendant's July 31, 2017 continuance request of the first trial date of September 14, 2017 was due to defense counsel's vacation. The Court granted both requests.[22]

         Defendant then filed a Motion to Dismiss on July 17, 2017 and an Amended Motion to Dismiss on July 31, 2017.[23] Trial is scheduled for January 23, 2018.

         III. THE PARTIES' CONTENTIONS

         A. Defendant's Contentions[24]

         Defendant makes two main arguments in support of his motion to dismiss. First, Defendant claims that the State caused an unnecessary delay, pursuant to Superior Court Criminal Rule 48(b), in bringing Defendant to trial and, as a result, caused Defendant prejudice.[25] Second, Defendant asserts that the re-indictment for Operation of a Vehicle Causing Death under a theory of Careless Driving is barred by the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment of the United Stated Constitution and Article I, § 8 of the Delaware Constitution.[26]

         First, in support of his 48(b) argument, Defendant argues there was an unnecessary delay in bringing him to trial because there was a nine-month delay between the accident and the first indictment and an eleven-month delay between the accident and the re-indictment.[27] Defendant also contends that he was prejudiced by the delay because he is 61-years-old, has been disabled since 2003, has various medical ailments, can only move with the aid of a walker, and lives in Pennsylvania and needs a family member to drive him to Court.[28] Furthermore, Defendant argues that he has had "high levels of anxiety since he found out he was being twice prosecuted for this incident."[29]

         Defendant also argues that, by seeking re-indictment on a separate charge, the State did so "presumably to set forth a stronger argument that the case is not barred by [the] double jeopardy clause."[30] "This negligent choice of forum by the State and the unnecessary delay for indictment and re-indictment does leave the impression of unfair manipulation of the criminal process."[31]

         Second, Defendant argues that this case should be dismissed because the indictment is barred under the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment of the United Stated Constitution and Article I, § 8 of the Delaware Constitution.[32]Defendant asserts that the indictment is barred pursuant to Double Jeopardy because Defendant pled guilty to 21 Del. C. § 4107 and JP Ct. 9 "enter[ed] an order discharging [Defendant] from probation" after Defendant completed PBJ.[33]Defendant contends that he has a "legitimate expectation of finality" and should not be subjected to multiple punishments for the same offense.[34]

         B. The State's Contentions

         First, the State argues that any unnecessary delay in bringing Defendant to trial "is not attributable to the State[]" because Defendant filed two continuance requests on July 7, 2017 and July 31, 2017.[35] The State also contends that Defendant has not demonstrated that he suffered prejudice because "[h]e has never been held in connection with this case."[36] The State also essentially argues that Defendant is unable to claim prejudice when less than two months separated the initial indictment and the re-indictment, and the re-indictment was "well before trial."[37] Also, the State argues that there has been "no evidence presented that the current prosecution caused or exacerbated Defendant's [medical conditions]."[38]

         Second, the State makes arguments that Double Jeopardy does not preclude this Superior Court prosecution of Defendant for Operation of a Vehicle Causing Death.[39] Primarily, the State argues that Double Jeopardy did not attach in the first JP Ct. 9 proceeding because PBJ is an administrative process without the adjudication of guilt.[40] Thus, the State argues that "Defendant's participation in the PBJ program does not preclude prosecution" in this Court because jeopardy did not attach in JP Ct. 9.[41]

         IV. DISCUSSION

         Defendant's motion to dismiss is denied because there has been no unnecessary delay pursuant to Superior Court Criminal Rule 48(b) and because prosecution of Defendant for Operation of a Vehicle Causing Death is not precluded by the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment of the United Stated Constitution or Article I, § 8 of the Delaware Constitution.

         A. Dismissal Pursuant to Superior Court Criminal Rule 48(b) is Not Warranted.

         The indictment of Operation of a Vehicle Causing Death will not be dismissed because the Court finds that there has been no unnecessary delay attributable to the State and because any prejudice to Defendant of as a result of a delay was not essentially beyond that of an ordinary party to a criminal justice proceeding.

         This Court has broad discretionary authority to dismiss an indictment if there has been "unnecessary delay."[42] Superior Court Criminal Rule 48(b) states:

If there is unnecessary delay in presenting the charge to a grand jury or in filing an information against a defendant who has been held to answer in Superior Court, or if there is unnecessary delay in bringing a defendant to trial, the ...

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