May 25, 2012
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
JAMES J. SANOCKI, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hunterdon County, Indictment No. 07-06-00058.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued May 16, 2012
Before Judges Fuentes, Graves, and J. N. Harris.
Claiming that his constitutional right to a speedy trial was violated, defendant James J. Sanocki appeals the denial of his motion to dismiss the indictment. We affirm.
After the Law Division found no basis to dismiss the indictment, Sanocki pled guilty to second-degree receiving stolen property, N.J.S.A. 2C:20-7; third-degree theft, N.J.S.A. 2C:20-3; and third-degree conspiracy to promote or facilitate theft by deception, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2 and N.J.S.A. 2C:20-4(a). Sanocki was sentenced to an aggregate term of five years imprisonment. This appeal followed.
On appeal, Sanocki raises a single argument:
POINT I: DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS THE INDICTMENT SHOULD HAVE BEEN GRANTED BECAUSE THE FIVE-YEAR DELAY BETWEEN HIS ARREST AND INDICTMENT DEPRIVED HIM OF HIS SIXTH AMENDMENT RIGHT TO A SPEEDY TRIAL.
Our review of the record does not reveal a constitutional violation, and the Law Division's disposition of Sanocki's speedy trial motion was proper.
On August 8, 2002, state investigators executed search warrants of Sanocki's Ewing and Frenchtown residences. The search warrants were executed in connection with an investigation begun by authorities in Kentucky of a multi-state theft ring operating out of Louisville. The investigation suggested that stolen vehicles and equipment were transported to New Jersey and received by Sanocki. The investigation further revealed that Sanocki may have sold some of the stolen property through an internet auction site. Numerous suspected stolen items were seized, including motorcycle components, an all-terrain vehicle, and a tractor. Pursuant to the search warrants, authorities also seized Sanocki's personal computer.
That same day, Sanocki was arrested and charged in two complaints with fencing, N.J.S.A. 2C:20-7.1(b), and receiving stolen property, N.J.S.A. 2C:20-7. Following his arrest, Sanocki waived his Miranda*fn1 rights and gave two statements to investigators. According to the State, in a "lengthy audiotaped statement and a four-page hand-written statement, [Sanocki] made incriminating admissions regarding his involvement in the theft ring."
On August 16, 2002, Sanocki entered a plea of not guilty and was released on his own recognizance. The matter was listed for an early disposition conference (EDC) to be held on September 27, 2002. However, on September 10, 2002, the State requested that "the matter be removed from the EDC list pending further investigation."
The evidence obtained by the State during the investigation revealed, among other things, that "the stolen items linked to the defendant from the Kentucky theft ring were stolen at separate times from 25 separate victims in Kentucky, Alabama and New Jersey," and that the total approximate value of those items was "in excess of $270,000." The State's investigation "involved dozens of interviews of victims and witnesses from several states . . . including Kentucky, Alabama, Florida, Pennsylvania, New York, Minnesota, Texas and Virginia." In discovery, the volume of information provided by the State included "over 1800 pages of documents and three computer diskettes."
Almost five years later, on June 4, 2007, Sanocki was indicted by a State Grand Jury for multiple crimes. The indictment asserted seven counts, but as already noted, Sanocki entered guilty pleas to only three.
On November 28, 2007, the Law Division considered Sanocki's motion to dismiss the indictment due to an alleged violation of his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial.*fn2 At the hearing, Sanocki contended that the motion was filed "because of the extraordinary . . . passage of time" between the arrest and the indictment. He further argued that all of the material provided to him by the State in discovery came from "2002 and early 2003," meaning that the State "had possession of all of this information" and that it had "nothing new, nothing different, since 2002, and since early 2003." Thus, "nothing" or "very little if anything . . . was done by way of investigation . . . since the seizure of [his] computer and all of his personal items from his home back in 2002."
Additionally, Sanocki argued that the large volume of documentary evidence amassed by the State did not necessarily mean that the case was complex, and that it was "just fallacy" to believe that the delay between his arrest and indictment was justified by the complexity of the case. Sanocki argued that he had "been under burdens for the last five years" because of his arrest, but did not elaborate on the nature of those burdens except to bemoan that a Google search could reveal the existence of the criminal charges pending against him. Notwithstanding the foregoing, Sanocki did not suffer any discernable economic consequences due to the lag, and conceded that "he's done okay for himself because he's self-employed."
In opposition to the motion, the State argued that the case involved a "complex matter" because in "the fencing operation alone," there were "at least [twenty-four] separate victims, [twenty] plus of which are out of state" and "the [twenty] separate theft crimes . . . all needed to be investigated, notwithstanding that [Sanocki] gave [investigators] a statement" the day he was arrested. In support of its argument, the State asserted that Sanocki was "released on his own recognizance because [the State] knew [it] had [its] work cut out for [itself] on this case, that it would be more complex than a simple third-degree theft crime."
The State further characterized the amount of evidence involved as "vast," and State investigators needed to "wade through" the "boxes and a trailer full" of vehicle parts recovered from Sanocki's houses to match stolen items to particular victims. The State maintained that Sanocki's personal computer provided a "treasure trove of information" because it contained "a vast amount of information, hundreds of e-mails . . . not only discussing matters with his co-conspirators in Kentucky, but also arranging for a purchase or sale of some of these items with other people . . . around the country."
In response to Sanocki's claim that he suffered harm because he was publicly humiliated following his arrest, the State asserted that it did not "know of there being any public knowledge of this investigation" before the indictment was issued, and that "[t]here was no press release by the State." The State argued that Sanocki did not suffer financial harm because he had been self-employed as a "real estate investor" since November 2002 and he reported his annual income to be "$250,000 a year." The State also noted that Sanocki had previously "never [made] any assertion . . . of the right to a speedy trial in this matter."
The Law Division concluded that there was "no violation of defendant's right to a speedy trial." The court recognized that the issue was governed by the four-prong test set forth by the Unites States Supreme Court in Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 92 S. Ct. 2182, 33 L. Ed. 2d 101 (1972), as adopted by New Jersey in State v. Szima, 70 N.J. 196, cert. denied, 429 U.S. 896, 97 S. Ct. 259, 50 L. Ed. 2d 180 (1976). The court found that although there was "no question that a five-year or approximately five-year delay is indeed a substantial delay," the State "satisfactorily provided [a] rationale for the five-year delay."
The court further found that "[c]ontrary to defendant's contention that this was an arrest and investigation for . . . something akin to a simple street crime, this was, in fact, an arrest which was part of a large-scale complex investigation." The court stated:
The State had to process a substantial amount of evidence, some of that coming from computers, much of it coming apparently from out-of-state witnesses. As evidenced by the difference between the original complaint file, which . . . contained two charges, and the indictment, which included seven charges, it is clear that the State was using the time to pursue the investigation, and the time required for the completion of that investigation was lengthy.
As such, the balancing test is weighed in favor of the State, and defendant's right to a speedy trial was not violated. Further, defendant never complained or previously requested a speedy trial. I agree with the State . . . that, standing alone, [this] is certainly not dispositive of the issue, but it is clearly a factor to be considered[.] . . . [N]or has there been a presentation of any undue prejudice.
The facts appear to confirm that defendant has been employed making a substantial income . . . during the intervening years, and I also note that he was not incarcerated, and apparently the initial complaint was issued on a summons. For these reasons[,] defendant's motion to dismiss the indictment is denied.
"The right to a speedy trial is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and imposed on the states by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment." State v. Tsetsekas, 411 N.J. Super. 1, 8 (App. Div. 2009) (citing Klopfer v. North Carolina, 386 U.S. 213, 222-23, 87 S. Ct. 988, 993, 18 L. Ed. 2d 1, 7-8 (1967)). "'The constitutional right . . . attaches upon defendant's arrest.'" Ibid. (quoting State v. Fulford, 349 N.J. Super. 183, 190 (App. Div. 2002)). The State has the duty to promptly bring a case to trial; that responsibility does not fall on a defendant. Ibid. (citing State v. Merlino, 153 N.J. Super. 12, 17 (App. Div. 1977)). "As a matter of fundamental fairness," the State must avoid "excessive delay in completing a prosecution[,]" or risk running afoul of the "defendant's constitutional right to speedy trial." State v. Farrell, 320 N.J. Super. 425, 445-46 (App. Div. 1999).
The determination of "when a delay infringes upon a defendant's due process rights" is guided by the four-part test announced in Barker, supra, 407 U.S. at 530, 92 S. Ct. at 2192, 33 L. Ed. 2d at 117. Specifically, courts must consider and balance the "[l]ength of delay, the reason for the delay, the defendant's assertion of his right, and prejudice to the defendant." Ibid. In applying the four-part test, "[n]o single factor is a necessary or sufficient condition to the finding of a deprivation of the right to a speedy trial." Tsetsekas, supra, 411 N.J. Super. at 10 (citing Barker, supra, 407 U.S. at 533, 92 S. Ct. at 2193, 33 L. Ed. 2d at 118).
The Barker factors are assessed and balanced in light of competing interests: on one side, the "'societal right to have the accused tried and punished'" and on the other, a defendant's right to be prosecuted "'fairly and not oppressively.'" State v. Dunns, 266 N.J. Super. 349, 380 (App. Div.) (quoting State v. Farmer, 48 N.J. 145, 175 (1966), cert. denied, 386 U.S. 991, 87 S. Ct. 1305, 18 L. Ed. 2d 235 (1967)), certif. denied, 134 N.J. 567 (1993). We weigh the State's deliberate delay more heavily in favor of dismissal of the prosecution than delay attributable to the State's negligence or the court procedures and calendars. Barker, supra, 407 U.S. at 531, 92 S. Ct. at 2192, 33 L. Ed. 2d at 117. Conversely, delay caused by Sanocki's failure to invoke his right to a speedy trial, and the absence of actual prejudice and evidence of an advantage or benefit gained by the delay weigh in favor of continuing the prosecution. See State v. Misurella, 421 N.J. Super. 538, 545-46 (App. Div. 2011).
In light of these factors, we conclude that there was no violation of Sanocki's constitutional right to a speedy trial. This was a serious and complex prosecution involving multiple victims in disparate jurisdictions. Sanocki did not assert his right to a speedy trial for several years, and suffered no detectable prejudice by the admittedly uncommon delay. Thus, under these circumstances, the delay by itself does not warrant reversal. See Barker, supra, 407 U.S. at 531, 92 S. Ct. at 2192, 33 L. Ed. 2d at 117 ("the delay that can be tolerated for an ordinary street crime is considerably less than for a serious, complex conspiracy charge").
Sanocki was never incarcerated during the pendency of the charges against him and there is no suggestion that his defense was impaired by the delay. We note that the delays in this case worked a benefit, not a detriment, to Sanocki, who was able to enjoy more than four years of successful employment after his arrest. Therefore, we conclude that neither the length of the delay, the reasons for it, Sanocki's assertions of his right to a speedy trial, nor any resulting prejudice, compel dismissal.