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What does the right to a speedy trial mean?

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What does the Right to a Speedy Trial Mean?

The right to a speedy trial in a criminal case is recognized in the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and Article 1 Section 16 of the Florida Constitution. The speedy trial period is calculated differently in Florida and U.S. courts.

Speedy Trial Timelines in Federal Court

In federal court, a trial must begin within 70 days of the date the defendant is charged with an offense, when the indictment or information is made public, or when the defendant first appears before a judge in the court where the charge is pending, whichever occurs last. Unless the defendant consents in writing, the trial cannot begin less than 30 days from this first appearance before the judge where the charge is pending.

In federal court, certain things will stop the running of the speedy trial clock, including:

  • Pretrial motions,
  • Competency hearings, and
  • Delays made necessary because the defendant must go to trial on other charges

If more time is necessary to prepare for trial, the defendant can waive the speedy trial rights and file a motion to continue the trial date. The court may, but does not have to, grant the continuance. Often a continuance is granted when the defendant has extended the seventy days and the court finds that the continuance is necessary in the interest of justice.

Florida Speedy Trial Timelines

In Florida courts, the trial must begin within 90 days after the arrest if the crime charged is a misdemeanor, or within 175 days from arrest if the offense is a felony. A defendant can shorten this period to 60 days by filing a demand for a speedy trial. If a defendant demands a speedy trial, they must be brought to trial within 60 days of the demand.

Missing Speedy Trial Periods Does Not Automatically End a Case

In Florida courts, whether the defendant has demanded a speedy trial or not, if the speedy trial time passes, the defendant’s case does not automatically end. The defendant must file a notice that the speedy trial time has expired.

The court must hold a hearing within 5 days of the notice and determine whether compelling reasons exist that require a delay in the trial, such as a delay attributable to the defendant or some extraordinary circumstance.

If no special circumstances existed and the delay is not attributed to the defendant, the court will enter an order requiring the trial to start within 10 days of the hearing. If the defendant is not brought to trial within the 10 days, then they are “forever discharged from the crime.” That means the defendant cannot be prosecuted in Florida courts for that same crime, nor for another crime that might have been charged as a result of the same conduct.

Trial Extensions May Mean Waiving the Right to a Speedy Trial

A defendant charged in Florida state courts may obtain extensions of time to prepare for trial but must usually waive their right to a speedy trial in order to put off the trial. Unlike federal court, this is not a consent to delay for a set period; it is a general waiver of the right to a speedy trial. Once prepared for trial, a defendant can reassert the right to a speedy trial by filing a demand, and the trial must begin within 60 days.

Thorough Preparation Is More Important Than a Speedy Trial

The right to a speedy trial is not as important as being prepared for trial.

A rush to trial can result in a wrongful conviction if the defense does not have time to:

  • Conduct a defense investigation,
  • Develop evidence to discredit the prosecution’s case, and
  • Properly prepare for trial

In complex federal cases, prosecutors and investigators often spend years on an investigation before arresting the defendant. In these cases, there is no realistic way for the defense to be prepared for trial in 70 days when the prosecution took years to investigate and put their case together.

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