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Rape conviction reversed on speedy trial grounds

Case sent back to Fourth Department

By: Bennett Loudon//November 18, 2022

Rape conviction reversed on speedy trial grounds

Case sent back to Fourth Department

By: Bennett Loudon//November 18, 2022

The New York State Court of Appeals has reversed a rape conviction on speedy trial grounds and sent the case back to the Appellate Division.

On Thursday, the state’s highest court released a decision in the case of defendant Ronald K. Johnson.

Johnson was accused of raping a 14-year-old girl on Oct. 4, 2006. The time between the alleged crime and Johnson’s indictment was nearly eight years.

The victim was found lying in the street, intoxicated and unresponsive She told police she said she met a 15-year-old boy who gave her alcohol, and she didn’t remember what happened after she started drinking.

Her clothing and the evidence collected through the sexual assault kit was sent to the Monroe County Crime Laboratory.

She told police she knew her assailant only as “Shamer,” who was known to police, but she failed to identify him in a photo array.

Because of a backlog at the crime lab, the victim’s sexual assault kit and clothing were not processed for 13 months. When it was finally done, sperm and semen were found on the victim and on her underwear.

DNA found on the girl were submitted to a DNA database and, in February 2010, the lab discovered that the samples taken from the victim matched Johnson’s DNA profile.

In January 2011, after police were unable to reach the victim, the case was closed with the notation “victim uncooperative.”

In December 2012, through a counselor working with the victim, police were notified that the girl wanted to pursue the case. She was shown a photo array containing Johnson’s picture, but the girl identified a different man as her potential assailant.

Shortly thereafter, the investigator injured his knee and was out of the office for six weeks.

In August 2013, the case was assigned to an assistant district attorney. After some difficulty, he reached the victim in October 2013, when she finally identified Johnson as her assailant from a photo array.

Subsequently, the investigator attempted to reach the victim for several months but was unable to do so.

In February 2014 the victim was subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury and confirmed that she would, but she arrived several hours late, and the case was not presented.

The case was finally presented to a grand jury on June 4, 2014. The indictment charged Johnson with first-degree and second-degree rape.

Johnson’s attorney moved to dismiss the indictment, claiming the delayed prosecution deprived him of his right to due process. The Monroe County Court judge denied the motion and Johnson accepted a deal to plead guilty to second-degree rape.

The Appellate Division of state Supreme Court, Fourth Department, affirmed the conviction and Johnson appealed to the Court of Appeals.

Wilson wrote that People v Taranovich, a 1975 Court of Appeals decision, established five factors for assessing a speedy trial claim: The extent of the delay; the reasons for the delay; the nature of the underlying charge; whether there has been an extended period of pretrial incarceration; and whether there is any indication that the defense was impaired by the delay.

“The Appellate Division deviated from our Taranovich framework in several significant ways,” Judge Rowan Wilson wrote in the Court of Appeals decision.

Both sides agreed that the first factor — the length of delay —favors the defendant, according to the decision.

On the second factor — reasons for delay — “the Appellate Division’s conclusion that the second factor favored Johnson is based upon an assumption for the sake of argument,” Wilson wrote.

The Appellate Division assumed that the prosecutor lacked good cause and concluded that the third factor — the nature of the underlying charge — favored Johnson.

“That conclusion, apparently based solely on that assumption with no analysis of the relevant concerns, is not supportable,” Wilson wrote.

The fourth factor — extended pretrial incarceration — does not apply because Johnson was not held before trial.

On the fifth factor five, whether the defense was impaired by the delay, the Appellate Division ruled that the delay “could not have impaired’ his ability to defend himself.

“This was error,” Wilson wrote.

“The Appellate Division here misinterpreted the Taranovich framework, and its factual and legal review should be made under the proper framework,” Wilson wrote.

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