Published on:

Court Concluded that Defendant’s Right to a Speedy Trial Was Violated- People v. Watson, 975 N.Y.S.2d 369 (2013)


In a drug possession case where the court had to decide whether the defendant’s right to a speedy trial had been violated, the court also examined the distinction between a criminal complaint and an information.

On October 23, 2012, the defendant was charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance in the fifth degree, a felony, in violation of Penal Law §220.06(2).  The defendant allegedly was in possession of Hydrocodone and Alprazolam pills. On October 25, 2012, because there was no lab evidence confirming the type of drug that the defendant allegedly possessed, the charge was reduced to criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree, a Class A misdemeanor under New York Penal Law §220.03. When the charge was reduced, the court marked the accusatory instrument a misdemeanor complaint. Nearly 5 months later, in March 2013, the defendant’s case had not been brought to trial.

New York’s speedy trial rules required that if the charge is a felony, the case must be ready for trial within 6 months.  For class A misdemeanors the case must be ready for trial within 90 days, while for class B misdemeanors, the case must be ready for trial within 60 days. The time period runs from when the original complaint was filed. Where as in People v. Watson a felony complaint is replaced with a new accusatory instrument charging a misdemeanor, the prosecution must be ready for trial within 90 days from the filing of the new instrument or 6 months from the filing of the felony complaint, whichever is shorter.

In People v. Watson on March 11, 2013, the defendant moved for speedy trial relief and later moved for dismissal of the charges because he had been deprived his right to a speedy trial. The defendant maintained that the prosecution was required to announce their readiness for trial on January 23, 2013 which was 90 days of October 25, 2012.

The prosecution responded that because the defendant was originally charged with a felony, they in fact have 6 months, not 90 days from the commencement of the criminal action. The prosecution also argued that accusatory instruments filed on October 25, 2012 charging defendant with criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree are in fact informations and not simply a misdemeanor complaint.

Typically, to initiate a criminal case for a misdemeanor, the accusatory instrument filed by the prosecution is a complaint.  A complaint contains an accusatory portion that charges the designated offense and a factual section that establishes “reasonable cause” to believe that the defendant committed the charged offense. On the other hand, in addition to the reasonable cause requirement, an information must also set forth nonhearsay allegations that establish the prima facie case.

The court disagreed with the prosecution noting that the officer’s conclusory statement that the pills seized from the defendant were hydrocodone and alprazolam without more is insufficient to meet the requirements of an information. Therefore, the court held that the accusatory instruments which charged defendant with a violation of criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree are in fact misdemeanor complaints and not sufficient informations.

A defendant has a statutory right to be prosecuted by information in any misdemeanor action, unless he waives the right.  In order for the criminal complaint that the prosecution filed to have been converted to an information, the prosecution would have needed to filed a supporting deposition or a laboratory report backing up the police officer’s statement about the nature of the drugs found in the possession of the defendant. The prosecution did not do this.  The court found that the prosecution did not present readiness to proceed in a timely manner in violation of the speedy trial requirements.  Thus, the defendant’s motion for an order dismissing the case was granted.

Contact Information