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What Is the Ideal Speed for a Speedy Trial?


Some types of legal cases are faster than others.  For example, most traffic court cases resolve in a single day.  On the other end of the spectrum, inheritance disputes can drag out for years; Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, in which a probate case had been going on for decades, is a fictional example, of course, but if you go to a tabloid news website, you will find new developments in the fight over the estates of some wealthy celebrities who died years ago.  Criminal cases are supposed to proceed quickly, but sometimes things take longer than you might hope.  The idea of what is fair to a defendant in a criminal case is somewhat different from what is fair to litigants in civil cases, since defendants in criminal cases have so much more to lose.  Only in a criminal case can you go to prison or lose your right to vote.  Here, our Miami criminal defense lawyer explains what the right to a speedy trial means in the context of criminal cases.

The Rationale Behind the Sixth Amendment Right to a Speedy Trial

One of the principal aims of the Constitution and its amendments is to avoid punishing people unfairly.  Thus, the Eighth Amendment forbids cruel and unusual punishment, and the Fifth Amendment forbids the state from coercing defendants into confessing to crimes.  The Sixth Amendment’s focus is the right to a fair trial.  One of the rights it guarantees is the right to a speedy trial, a concept which case law has interpreted in more detail.

The police have the right to arrest people they reasonably suspect of committing a crime, but they do not have the right to detain them indefinitely without a trial to confirm or discredit the allegations against the defendant.  Even in cases where defendants do not have to stay in jail for the entire time leading up to their trial, it is very difficult to move on with your life when criminal charges against you are pending.  Defendants deserve to find out the outcome of their cases within a reasonable amount of time.  Even if you are convicted, the sooner your sentence begins, the sooner it ends.

In a Perfect World, Everyone’s Trial Would Begin Within 70 Days

Federal law has set guidelines for the timetable for criminal cases.  The arraignment, which is the first court appearance by a defendant who is facing charges, should happen three days after the arrest, in cases where the defendant was arrested in the immediate aftermath of the alleged crime, such as if police found drugs in the defendant’s car during a traffic stop or went to the defendant’s house in response to a call from the defendant’s wife about domestic violence.  If the case arises from an indictment, where a grand jury considers evidence presented by prosecutors and then votes to charge the defendant with a crime, the arraignment happens within three days of the indictment.

At the arraignment, the judge formally notifies the defendant of the charges, and the defendant enters a plea.  If the defendant pleads not guilty, the court will schedule a trial.  The recommended time for a trial is not less than 30 days but not more than 70 days after the indictment.  The goal is to give the parties adequate time to prepare for the trial, but not to make the defendant wait too long to find out the outcome of his or her case.  If the defendant wants the trial to begin less than 30 days after the arraignment, he or she may request this.  The Speedy Trial Act of 1974 is one of the laws that deal with this matter.  Of course, the parties have the right to file pretrial motions while preparing for trial, and the judge has the right to pause the clock while considering these motions.

What Should You Do If the Court Unfairly Delays Your Case?

The parties in a criminal case have the right to request a continuance, which is a delay of the trial, if they need more time to prepare.  A continuance of more than eight months is considered unreasonable.  If the prosecution requests a continuance, you have the right to argue that the judge should not grant it.  In some cases, defendants can even get their cases dismissed if there are too many unnecessary delays.

Contact Our Criminal Defense Attorneys

A South Florida criminal defense lawyer can help you exercise your right to a speedy trial and other legal rights afforded to defendants in criminal cases.  Contact Ratzan & Faccidomo in Miami, Florida for a free, confidential consultation about your case.




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