CRIMINAL LAW – issues pertaining to speedy trial and prosecutorial vindictiveness preserved: Robert Dickerson v. Commonwealth (SC 2/19/2009)

Robert Dickerson v. Commonwealth
2008-SC-000074-MR 2/19/2009
Opinion by Chief Justice Minton; all sitting.

After the Supreme Court reversed his original convictions, Dickerson pled guilty to criminal abuse in the first degree and firearm possession by a felon. On appeal, he argued that he was denied his constitutional right to a speedy trial and that the Commonwealth engaged in prosecutorial vindictiveness when it obtained a new indictment containing new charges. As a threshold issue, the Supreme Court determined that even though there was nothing in the judgment of conviction indicating his guilty plea was conditional, Dickerson had nonetheless adequately preserved his appellate rights. The Court noted that even though the issues upon which appellate review was sought were not set forth in the plea documents, Dickerson had submitted motions for a speedy trial and to dismiss based on prosecutorial vindictiveness prior to entering into the guilty plea. In order to prevent situation like this from occurring in the future the Court urged the bench and bar “to specify in the record in conditional guilty pleas the precise issues being reserved for appellate purposes.”

Turning to the merits of the appeal, the Court rejected Dickerson’s speedy trial claim. Although the Court acknowledged that Dickerson had timely and adequately asserted his right to a speedy trial and suffered a presumptively prejudicial delay attributable in part to the prosecution’s failure to comply with discovery obligations, the Court held that Dickerson had failed to show actual prejudice. The Court also rejected Dickerson’s claim of prosecutorial vindictiveness, holding that even if Dickerson could make a prima facie showing of vindictiveness, the Supreme Court’s previous reversal had identified evidentiary problems that warranted the prosecution obtaining a new indictment with additional charges.

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