Defendants' Rights To A Speedy Trial: How A Delay Could Work In Your Favor

If you have been charged with a crime, you have the right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment in the Constitution. Some states also have their own statutes regarding defendants' right to speedy trials. The Constitution does not set a specific amount of time to define speedy, but many state statutes and jurisdictions have specific time frames. For example, many jurisdictions allow the prosecution a time frame of 60–120 days to bring a defendant in custody to trial. Defendants are able to waive their right to a speedy trial, and certain court activities such as pretrial motions may not be counted in the time frame. 

What happens if there is a delay in the start of a trial and the defendant has not waived their rights?

It is possible for defense attorneys to file motions to dismiss. Keep in mind that motions are considered requests. Attorneys have to provide solid reasons for their motions, and even a strong argument could get rejected by a judge. If a motion to dismiss is denied, a defense attorney can file another motion for reconsideration, which the judge may also deny. 

If the trial court denies a request for reconsideration, the motion to dismiss can be presented to a higher court for review. This may be done in the form of a petition to the higher court to dismiss the pending case in the lower court. A writ of prohibition can be filed with the higher court, which is a legal document outlining why the motion to dismiss should be granted. The document will list specific reasons the request should be honored. 

The higher court may also deny the motion to dismiss. The option to continue appealing is possible.

What factors are considered in determining whether adequate time has been given for a speedy trial if there is not a state defined time frame?

When there is not a statute explicitly stating the time frame for a speedy trial, judges must rely on the Constitution and their own discretion. Judges consider what is causing the delays, length of the delays, whether prejudicial factors are involved, and the defendants' assertions of their rights. 

Doggett v. United States is a prime example of a trial delay that resulted in a higher court ruling in favor of the defendant and dismissing the charges. In this particular case, Doggett was indicted, but authorities did not make an arrest until 8½ years later. The request to dismiss was granted on a prejudicial basis by the Supreme Court, because the authorities neglected to inform him of the charges being brought against him for a lengthy amount of time. The arrest which was made years after the indictment had a presumptive negative impact on the defendant's defense.

Final Thoughts

A criminal defense attorney is the best resource to use if you or a loved one has been accused of a crime. Keep in mind that the Sixth Amendment protects a number of other rights too. For example, the right to an attorney and right to an impartial jury are also covered under the act. Hiring a lawyer in your jurisdiction is the best way to know whether statutes with specific time frames exist and whether there is a possibility charges could get dismissed on the grounds of not having a speedy trial.