Prosecutors Challenge Dismissal

By Mariana Minaya
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Prosecutors in Montgomery County said yesterday that they intend to ask an appellate court to overturn a judge's dismissal of a case against a Liberian immigrant charged with raping a young girl. The judge had ruled that repeated delays caused by the court's failure to find an interpreter fluent in the accused man's native dialect had violated his right to a speedy trial.

Mahamu D. Kanneh was arrested in August 2004 after witnesses told police he raped and repeatedly molested a 7-year-old relative. The case was dismissed last week, nearly three years later, by Circuit Court Judge Katherine D. Savage.

Montgomery County State's Attorney John J. McCarthy said in a statement yesterday that the judge's ruling should be overturned. "While the Defendant is presumed innocent, the charges are serious, and a trial on the merits of this case is what we hope to achieve through this appeal," McCarthy said.

"The Court, under the extraordinary circumstances of this case, attempted multiple times to satisfy its obligations. The bottom line is that any delays caused by the attempt to find an appropriate and qualified interpreter is not attributable to the prosecution . . . and should not serve as the basis for dismissing the charges against the Defendant," the statement said.

In her ruling July 17, Savage didn't assign blame for the delay.

The appellate judges will consider four issues in assessing whether Kanneh's right to a speedy trial was violated: the length of delay, the reasons for the delay, when the defendant invoked his right to a speedy trial and whether the delay resulted in "prejudice," or significant consequences for the defendant.

Kanneh was free on bond while awaiting trial, but his attorney has argued in court that the criminal charges prevented him from furthering his education and pursuing better employment opportunities. The attorney, public defender Theresa Chernosky, did not immediately return a message seeking comment last night.

In Maryland, defendants have the right to be tried within 180 days of their indictment. Kanneh waived that right for a time because the defense wanted to conduct its own analysis of DNA evidence, but his attorney argued that the waiver applied only until the next court date.

Chernosky asked this month that the case be dismissed. Last week, she told the court that the delays were not the defendant's fault.

The trial was also delayed because the state and the defense argued over whether Kanneh required an interpreter. His native dialect, Vai, is spoken by an estimated 100,000 people, mostly in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The issue was decided after a court-appointed psychiatrist recommended that Kanneh have an interpreter. The court then found three, none of whom worked out, for different reasons. Another interpreter was found more recently -- but not, the judge ruled, in time to protect Kanneh's right to a speedy trial.

Staff writer Ernesto LondoƱo contributed to this report.

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