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Right to a Speedy Trial

Your right to a speedy trial can be a strong asset to a pending defense or a liability and tool for the prosecution depending on the circumstances of your individual case. With close to forty years of broad experience in the federal legal system my law office can help you decide how or if to utilize this Constitutional right.

In 1787, when the Constitution was established as the new laws for the governing of the thirteen fledgling colonies that would become the United States of America, the framers left room for Amendments in order to make changes and updates that the original document may have overlooked. These ingredients of ideals which became the laws of the land went into effect in March, 1789.

Six months after the ratification of the new Constitution, thirty-nine amendments were introduced in the House of Representatives by James Madison, of which ten were ratified by the states, creating the Bill of Rights which was not included in the Constitution but attached as a supplementary document.

The Bill of rights' inspiration dates back to George Mason's 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights which was based on the English Bill of Rights from 1689, and originally the Magna Carta; documented in 1215 as well as other English political documents.

The purpose of these amended laws was to limit the government's power in judicial and miscellaneous proceedings, and reserve certain powers to the states as well as granting a quantity of personal freedoms to the public.

Among these ten amendments, liberties not itemized or expressly well-defined in the main body of the Constitution are: the right to possess and bear arms, freedoms of speech and religion, maintaining a free press, the right for free assembly by the public, protection from unreasonable search and seizure as well as their security in personal effects, and freedom from warrants issued without probable cause; indictment by a grand jury for any capital or infamous crime (felonies), and prevention of double jeopardy as well as the guarantee of a speedy, public trial with an impartial jury.

The utilization of the Bill of Rights protections and guarantees had little judicial effect for its first one hundred-fifty years of its existence but became the root of many Supreme Court judgments in this current century as well as the past one.  

One more Amendment was ratified in the eighteenth century as well as four more in the nineteenth century and twelve additional in the twentieth century. Two Amendments (18th and 23rd were subsequently repealed).
This Webpage will relate to the Sixth Amendment that has been utilized in the explanation of The Speedy Trial Act of 1974 (amended August, 1979) which relates to actual timetables in federal criminal cases.

Time Limits
The Act institutes definitive procedural time limits for concluding two phases of a federal criminal prosecution and has different time limits for cases prosecuted by each individual state.

Based on the new procedures, a criminal complaint by either an Indictment or criminal Information must be filed within a thirty day period; beginning from the time when an arrest took place or a summons was served or the defendant made his first court appearance. This period of time, known as the first interval is to give a defendant proper notification of the charges which they will be held to answer to and have sufficient opportunity to acquire an attorney to prepare for all pretrial motions and for the trial itself.

An exception to this procedure is that if during this initial thirty day period a grand jury is not in session in the district where the charges will be prosecuted, the government receives up to a supplementary thirty days to file a written criminal complaint.  

The trial for a federal criminal felony if the defendant pleads not guilty must be set within a seventy day period from the time the complaint is actually filed or the same time period if the suspect appears before a judge, magistrate or any other officer of the court in which the charges against them remains pending or if they are incarcerated. In the case of a misdemeanor, the maximum time period allotted to the prosecution to initiate a trial is thirty days but the "speedy trial clock" is not activated unless a federal arrest and charges or custody correspond. Consequently, transitory custody for the purpose of questioning to uncover facts and/or evidence against the defendant as well as a primary arrest and subsequent discharge without formal federal charges being filed does not start the countdown clock. This is known as the second interval

In the same respect trials cannot begin earlier than thirty days following the same formula as described above.

A defendant who pleads guilty to the charges against them waives their right to a claim of speedy trial unless their attorney enters a conditional plea under Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.

Besides setting the maximum and minimum periods before a trial may start, a large majority of the Act contains measures that exclude time (excludable time) which will cause the countdown to the maximum preset time limit from running, allowing both the defendant and government from having to meet the set time period.

The speedy trial timetable for both the first and second intervals may be halted and then resumed under certain situations. They include the court granting a motion to dismiss by the defense or if the concerns in a complaint are dismissed by the court or dropped by the government.  However, strategically this can give the government a tactical advantage by gaining further time by dropping the complaint and then re-filing charges.

However if the government moves to dismiss a criminal complaint by Indictment or Information they lose any advantage by its dismissal. If the defendant is re-charged with the same crime or any other crime joined to the original offense, the seventy day rule should be reconsidered. (See Standard 12-2.2 Commencement and setting of speedy trial time limit)

There are certain types of delays that will interrupt the clock from ticking. An example of this would be various types of supplementary proceedings relating to the accused.  Hearings to determine competency as well as the time it takes to examine the defendant by an expert, and the time the analysis of the defendant and results of the examination require. Examination for a potential insanity defense also fit this justification.

Other reasons for delay can be Interlocutory Appeals which also automatically stop the speedy trial clock. Interlocutory actions are engaged by a court when a Question of Law must be defined by an appellate court before a trial relating to the issue at hand may proceed. The transfer of a case or the removal of a defendant from one federal judicial district to another may also delay the allotted time periods, among other legal matters.

Related reading: A complete explanation of Speedy Trial and the timely resolution of criminal cases on the American Bar Association's Website.

State Prosecutions
There is a vast difference in a speedy trial timetable when a non-federal case is prosecuted by the states. A trial that is prosecuted by the State of Florida for a felony must be set within a one hundred seventy five day period following the same instances listed above in a federal case. In the case of a misdemeanor, the maximum time period allotted to the prosecution to initiate a trial is ninety days.

With close to forty years in the federal legal field working as an Assistant United States Attorney prosecuting cases for the government and for more than the past fifteen years practicing as a criminal defense attorney in South Florida, my law office specializes in federal criminal defense and is the proper choice to fight all allegations of these crimes when accused by the federal government.

To view all of my qualifications and understand what should be done next if there are questions relating to your right to a speedy trial, or invoking all other Constitutional protections, click here.

*Time tested federal criminal defense in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and the Palm Beaches as well as all the neighboring counties in the surrounding areas of South Florida.