U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Legal Background Materials for the Career Criminal Program (From Federal Assistance to State and Local Criminal Justice Agencies, P 425-474, 1978 - See NCJ-72609)

NCJ Number
Date Published
49 pages
Legal challenges based on violations of due process and equal protection rights that the Massachusetts' career criminal program could encounter are examined.
The critical issue is whether the accelerated judicial processes to be adopted in the proposed major violator program would deny a defendant any constitutional rights. Opponents of the program are likely to charge that the limits set for a speedy trial do not allow sufficient time to prepare an adequate defense, but several examples of case law are cited to refute this challenge. However, practical difficulties could arise in the daily operation of the career criminal program which would require individual attention in order to comply with constitutional mandates. The provision of the major violators project that assigns particular judges to hear program cases exclusively could be susceptible to a due process challenge on the basis that a prior knowledge of a recidivist's record may prejudice the defendant's right to a fair trial on the current offense. The 1967 Supreme Court decision in Spence v. State of Texas and subsequent Federal court opinions support the argument that defendants would not be unduly prejudiced by a judge's general awareness that they were serious offenders with criminal records. At present a common method for prosecuting recidivists involves a hearing apart from and following the trial of the current crime in order to avoid the prejudice problem. A survey of State and Federal case law indicates that a probable cause hearing is not constitutionally required when there has been a grand jury indictment, and it is unlikely that bypassing this hearing in major violators' cases could be challenged successfully. However, several arguments that opponents of the program could use are discussed. Equal protection challenges might come from criminal defendants who are not eligible for the program on the basis that they are being denied the right to a speedy trial while that right is being afforded to another group of defendants. Decisions on selective enforcement cases are reviewed to demonstrate that the classification criteria and administrative rationale of the Major Violators Project would sustain an attack alleging violations of equal protection rights. The Major Violators Project is consistent with Federal policy to reduce delays in criminal proceedings, as evidenced in the Speedy Trial Act which recognizes the need for different procedures to handle certain classes of criminal offenders.