Charges reinstated 3 years after case slip-up
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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reinstated rape and kidnapping charges Wednesday against a Wilkinsburg man who was freed in 2009 after spending more than a year in jail without trial because his paperwork went missing.
David L. Bradford, 32, was released in November 2009 by Common Pleas Judge Randal Todd, who dismissed his case under Rule 600, requiring the commonwealth to bring defendants to trial within 180 days if they are in custody. Mr. Bradford may head back to the Allegheny County Jail this week as prosecutors seek to have his bond revoked Friday.
In a 5-1 decision, the court Wednesday ruled that the Allegheny County district attorney's office, which twice appealed the case, "acted with due diligence" and instead blamed the delay on the district judge, saying her office failed to properly forward the case paperwork.
"The delay in this case was not the result of the absence of due diligence by the Commonwealth but, instead, due to the failure of the District Judge to comply with the Rules of Criminal Procedure," wrote Justice Max Baer, who authored the opinion.
The decision reverses a ruling by the state Superior Court, which upheld Judge Todd's decision and even admonished the district attorney's office for shoddy record-keeping.
The district attorney's office declined comment on Wednesday's decision, but said last October that it had shored up its case-tracking system so that it's aware of cases even if district judges fail to forward paperwork.
Attorneys said the case could have serious implications for defendants who bring challenges under Rule 600.
"Pennsylvania has created a scheme where unless the prosecutor's at fault, there's not a requirement that the charges against the defendant be dismissed," said Sara Rose, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union.
Mr. Bradford was arrested in September 2008 and charged with rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, terroristic threats and kidnapping with ransom. Police said he kidnapped a woman at knifepoint and raped her in an apartment building in Wilkinsburg. Mr. Bradford has maintained his innocence.
He was held for trial following a preliminary hearing, attended by an assistant district attorney, before District Judge Kim Hoots. Her office said it sent the paperwork to the Allegheny County Department of Court Records in April 2009.
For reasons unknown, the department never received the paperwork. Normally, the department would have generated a number for the case, which is automatically transmitted to the district attorney's office. But the department was unaware of the charges, so Mr. Bradford's case remained untouched for months as he sat in jail, unable to make $100,000 bond.
Mr. Bradford finally got his day in court in November 2009, when Judge Todd issued an order dismissing his case under Rule 600 after his attorney filed a motion.
In oral arguments before the high court last October, Assistant District Attorney Michael Streily conceded that "there was a breakdown in the system." But he said it still represented a "reasonable effort" to get Mr. Bradford a speedy trial.
Mr. Bradford's attorney, Kevin Abramovitz, countered that Rule 600 makes it the prosecutor's responsibility to make sure a defendant receives a speedy trial and that they cannot hoist that duty onto the court system.
"What the Supreme Court has allowed to happen here ... is for the district attorney to delegate their responsibilities to unnamed individuals, people they don't know, people that don't work for them," he said. "When something goes wrong, the district attorney can throw up their hands and say, 'not my fault.'"
Mr. Abramovitz said that although the district attorney's office had an elaborate system of tracking cases once they arrived at the Department of Court Records, it did "nothing" to ensure his client's right to a speedy trial.
He maintains the case "destroys the speedy trial rule ... The law says the Commonwealth has the burden of demonstrating that it exercised due diligence," he said. "The Commonwealth did nothing and apparently nothing is considered due diligence."
The court countered it was "reasonable" for the district attorney's office to rely on district judges to inform it of cases by forwarding paperwork.
Richard Long, executive director of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, agreed with the court.
"With limited resources, the argument can be made that it's reasonable for the Commonwealth to be able to rely on the court system ... to be able to execute a critical administrative function that is specifically spelled out in the rules," he said.
First Published May 31, 2012 12:00 am