What Happens When a Court Does Not Give a Defendant a “Speedy” Trial?
If you are charged with a felony or misdemeanor and awaiting trial, you understandably want your case resolved as quickly as possible. Indeed, the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees all criminal defendants the right to a “speedy” trial. But what exactly does “speedy” mean?
Miami Man’s Conviction Reversed Due to Yearlong Delay
With respect to federal crimes, the law states that when a defendant pleads not guilty, his or her trial must begin no later than 70 days after the indictment is filed or the defendant makes their first court appearance to answer the charges, whichever occurs later. The indictment must be dismissed if trial does not begin within this 70-day window, unless the judge “tolls” or stops the clock based on one or more factors specified in the law. For example, the judge might grant a delay to give the defendant “reasonable time” to obtain a lawyer or grant the prosecution time to prepare a complex case that requires more than 70 days to prepare.
The important thing is that a judge must give specific reasons for delaying a trial. It is insufficient for the court to grant an extension just because both sides agree to one–or in some cases, because the judge pressures the defendant into accepting a delay. In a 2006 decision, Zedner v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled such continuances are illegal and unconstitutional. In Zedner, a New York judge asked a defendant to sign a blanket waiver of his right to a speedy trial “for all time,” which resulted in a seven-year delay between indictment and trial. The Supreme Court unanimously held such a waiver was “ineffective.”
More recently, the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the conviction of a Miami defendant who waited more than a year for trial. Prosecutors claimed they needed “between five months and one year” to consider whether to seek the death penalty (which they ultimately did not). The defendant repeatedly objected to the delay, but the judge simply did not listen. Instead, the judge declared the parties had agreed to a one-year delay–which they did not–and entered an order without making any of the specific findings required by federal law.
The 11th Circuit said that was simply unacceptable. The court noted that even if the defendant had agreed to a delay, the judge was still required to explain how that would serve the “ends of justice.” The speedy trial requirement is not just for the benefit of the defendant, the 11th Circuit noted, but also the public at-large. As the Supreme Court noted in its Zedner opinion, guaranteeing a speedy trial reduces the possibility of a defendant committing crimes “while on pretrial release” or prevent “extended pretrial delay from impairing the deterrent effect of punishment.”
Accordingly, the 11th Circuit said the defendant’s conviction here could not stand. But the court left open the possibility of retrying the defendant. The trial judge will have to weigh a number of factors, including the “seriousness” of the defendant’s alleged crimes, in deciding whether retrial is justified.
Protecting Your Right to a Speedy Trial
It should be noted the 70-day limit applies to federal crimes only. In Florida, state law requires trial of a misdemeanor within 90 days and a felony within 175 days of arrest.
While a speedy trial is usually in a defendant’s interest, there may be situations where a delay is necessary or preferable. An experienced Miami criminal defense attorney can advise you on the best course of action. Contact the Law Office of Julia Kefalinos today if you have been charged with a felony or misdemeanor and require immediate legal assistance.