People v. Carlos Galindo
Issue: This appeal presented two questions about the January 2020 amendments to New York’s CPL § 30.30 speedy-trial requirements, that, among other things, added traffic infractions to offenses subject to its speedy trial rules: (1) whether, as the People argued, the amendments were ineffective, because the Legislature neglected to include traffic infractions as one of the four existing classes of crimes which had a statutory time period within which trial must be commenced or provide its own time period; and (2) whether the time limitation applied to the case being appealed, where the statute’s effective date occurred while the case was on direct appeal.
Held: When traffic infractions are jointly charged with at least one other listed offense, they fall within the scope of CPL § 30.30 and are subject to its time limitations. CPL § 30.30’s limitations on traffic infractions do not apply to criminal actions commenced before its effective date.
CAL Observes: In a rare unanimous decision in a criminal case, the court rejected the Queens DA’s challenge to the legitimacy of the § 30.30 amendments, but held that those amendments did not apply to cases commenced before its effective date, missing an opportunity to clarify statutory retroactivity rules.
While defendant’s direct appeal of his misdemeanor driving while intoxicated and VTL infraction convictions was pending before the AT2, the Legislature amended CPL § 30.30 to add § 30.30(1)(e), which states that the term “offense” includes traffic infractions for the purpose of CPL § 30.30(1). AT2 granted defendant’s motion to dismiss the accusatory instrument, including the traffic infractions, concluding that the People exceeded the statutory time limit to state their readiness for trial on the misdemeanor counts and that the amendment applied to this appeal.
The People appealed, arguing that the amendment as written failed to achieve its legislative purpose and, regardless, that the amendment is not retroactive. The Court of Appeals rejected the People’s argument that the legislature’s failure to specify a distinct time limit for trial readiness for traffic infractions—non-criminal infractions that are less serious than all the offenses referenced in the statute—made the statute ineffective. The Court held that, since it is obvious that by expressly including traffic infractions within the definition of “offenses,” the Legislature intended that the prosecution’s maximum time to declare trial readiness in a criminal action that includes a traffic offense would be determined by the most serious offense charged.
While the Court’s interpretation of the statute’s effectiveness is sound, it decision declining to apply it to this case is likely to sow further confusion about when court’s are required to apply a statutory amendment to cases pending on direct appeal at the time of its effective date.
When it comes to deciding whether a new judicial rule is fully retroactive, applies to cases pending on direct appeal at the time of its decision, or applies prospectively only, the Court created and applies the Pepper three part-balancing test. People v. Pepper, 53 N.Y.2d 213 (1981)(recognizing the distinction between true retroactivity—which addresses the question of whether a change in the law applies to convictions that are final at the time of the change—and application of a change in the law to convictions that are not yet final because they are still pending on direct appeal).
But when it comes to applying statutory enactments when the statute itself does not specify whether it is to apply to cases pending on direct appeal, the Court applies a catch-as-catch-can approach, seemingly choosing from an assortment of conflicting maxims.
On the one hand, courts can cite to one general rule that “cases on direct appeal are generally decided in accordance with the law as it exists at the time the appellate decision is made.” People v. Anderson, 306 A.D.2d 536, 537 (2d Dep’t 2003)(finding that amendments to CPL § 310.20(2) relating to permissible language in verdict sheets applied retroactively to cases pending on direct appeal); see generally Majewski v. Broadalbin-Perth Cent. School Dist., 91 N.Y.2d 577, 584 (1998)(recognizing that, unless the Legislature provides otherwise, remedial legislation addressing procedural matters applies retroactively). On the other, courts can cite, as the Court did here, to the maxim that statutory amendments “will in general have prospective effect only, unless its language indicates that it should receive a contrary interpretation.” Matter of Thomas v. Bethlehem Steel Corp., 63 N.Y.2d 150, 154 (1984).
Practitioners would benefit if the Court were to provide a unified rule for assessing when, in the absence of express statutory direction, statutory changes apply retroactively or to cases that are not yet final on the effective date of the change.