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Delay by DA's office causes judge to dismiss embezzlement case

Under the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, a person charged with a crime has the right to a speedy trial. The philosophy behind this rule is that the government should not be able to drag out a prosecution -- keeping the defendant locked up or held under the terms of bond -- indefinitely. In essence, prosecutors are supposed to "put up or shut up"; either present what evidence they have gathered to the court or drop the charges.

Pennsylvania's rules of criminal procedure interpret this Sixth Amendment clause in Rule 600. Rule 600 holds that trial must begin within 180 days if the defendant is being held in jail or 365 days if the defendant is out on bond. The Washington County District Attorney's Office is learning the consequences of letting that deadline lapse after a judge granted a woman's motion to dismiss the white collar charges against her after her case dragged on for two and a half years.

The woman was accused of embezzling about $530,000 from her former employer, a local car dealership, over four years. Prosecutors filed charges against her on Oct. 30, 2009, but did not file criminal information regarding the case until April 29, 2010, after more than a third of the Rule 600 time limit had passed. That was the last step prosecutors ever took toward trial.

The assistant district attorney assigned to the case blamed the judge for the long delay, but the judge said that "this court would have obliged" if the prosecutor had ever called for a trial date within the one-year limit.

The case formerly belonged to the current Washington County district attorney, who was an assistant district attorney in the same office before being elected to the top job. In August 2010, the court found that his predecessor had fallen well behind getting about 650 cases onto the docket in a timely manner. A team of assistant district attorneys worked with paralegals to catch up on the criminal information filings, which are necessary for the case to move on to the next step.

Source: Observer-Reporter, "Charges against $534K theft suspect dropped," Linda Metz, April 19, 2012

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