People v Ronald K Johnson


People v. Ronald K. Johnson (decided November 17, 2022)

Issue: Whether the Appellate Division has properly applied the Taranovich test in evaluating a pre-indictment-delay-based speedy trial claim.
In a case involving a sexual assault of an intoxicated minor, Johnson was not indicted for nearly eight years following the incident. During that time, law enforcement had stopped investigating whether the complainant wanted to cooperate, gotten several non-identifications, and faced DNA lab processing delays.

Held: No. In affirming the conviction, the Appellate Division had not properly analyzed several Taranovich factors. Specifically, the Court of Appeals faulted the intermediate court for not examining the reason for delay but rather assuming that the prosecution had established no good cause for it; similarly, its finding as to the “seriousness of the case” factor contained inadequate analysis, just assumption. The Court of Appeals also found that the Appellate Division erroneously concluded that there was no prejudice only as to the crime of conviction by plea (and thus cut against Mr. Johnson) rather than to all indicted counts.

CAL observes: Though a bit ironic given the current Court’s penchant for memorandum opinions, a principle take-away from this decision (authored by Judge Wilson for a unanimous court) is that perfunctory analysis by the Appellate Division might, in fact, be unacceptable.

Also notable was the court’s clear directive to analyze prejudice as to all indicted charges and not just the one to which a person pleads guilty, a recognition that delay can weaken the defense’s bargaining position.