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Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Discharges Man after 16-Year Sentence Execution Delay

On November 6, 2007, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts held that a 16-year delay in the execution of sentences for multiple violent and sex offenses precluded execution of the sentences.

Vith Ly, an immigrant from Cambodia living in Lowell, Massachusetts, was convicted of kidnapping, indecent assault, battery (three indictments), rape (two indictments) and assault with intent to rape in 1990 and sentenced to three five-year and three twenty-year terms. He was taken into custody and imprisoned. He filed an appeal. Two months later, a single judge of the Appeals Court granted his motion to stay execution of the sentences pending appeal. In 1991, one of the convictions for indecent assault and battery was vacated and the remaining convictions affirmed. However, no motion to execute the sentences was filed.

In 2007, a state trooper ran a routine registration check on Ly's vehicle and discovered that he was in violation of sex offender registration requirements. This led to the discovery of the unexecuted sentences. The Commonwealth filed a motion to execute the sentences. The Superior Court denied the motion, entering an order that the sentences were "deemed served" due to the delay. The Commonwealth appealed.

The Supreme Judicial Court held that "a defendant who unsuccessfully appeals from a criminal conviction bears no burden to come forward voluntarily to be taken into custody and incarcerated." Ly had lived in Lowell, raised three sons, been employed and paid his taxes during the delay. He had not fled or hidden from authorities. Therefore, any fault in the matter was on the Commonwealth. "It is a basic principle that a defendant sentenced to incarceration has a due process right to serve the sentence promptly and continuously." The court denied the Commonwealth's appeal, vacated the Superior Court's order and directed that court to enter an order denying the motion to execute the sentences and deeming Ly discharged from any present or future custody in those sentences.

See: Commonwealth v. Ly, 450 Mass. 16; 875 N.E.2d 840 (2007).

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Related legal case

Commonwealth v. Ly