What is the "Right to a Speedy Trial" and why do we have it?
The right to a speedy trial gives every person accused of a crime the protection that their case will not linger on indefinitely. In olden times, as in before America, a person could be taken into custody, thrown in a cell or dungeon, and forgotten. In America we do not allow this. To do otherwise, would enable the government to incarcerate people and take away their freedoms without given them due process first.
For those who are not aware, "due process" concerns the legal system in place that enables a person to check, verify, challenge, and attack any allegations or evidence lodged against them by the government. It also forces the government to prove its allegations. In the absence of proof, a person must be set free.
By putting time limits on when a case must be resolved, the government is prevented from locking people up without proving its allegations and from allowing evidence to spoil or age to the point where an innocent person can no longer defend themselves.
How does the Speedy Trial Rule work in Florida?
In Florida, the Speedy Trial Rule is controlled by Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.191. According to this rule, a person must be brought to trial within 90 days of his/her arrest if the charge is a misdemeanor and 175 days from arrest if the charge is a felony.
If those time periods elapse and the defendant has not been brought to trial, he/she must then file a "Notice of Expiration of Speedy Trial Time" and serve it on the prosecution. Assuming the defendant has not waived his/her right to a speedy trial, the trial must commence within 15 days.
If trial does not commence within 15 days, the defendant is entitled to permanent discharge.
The Effect of Discharge
When a person is entitled to discharge, the prosecution is barred from prosecuting the defendant for the crime charged and all other crimes which might ensue from the same conduct.
Discharge is forever.
Put simply, this means that the prosecution cannot pursue the case against the defendant any longer. If the defendant is in custody, he/she must be released.
In order to obtain a discharge, a defendant would have to motion the appropriate trial judge where his/her case is being handled.
Delays Attributable to the Defendant
A Notice of Expiration of Speedy Trial Time is only valid if timely filed (meaning after the 90/175 window has elapsed) and if the defendant has not previously waived his/her speedy trial rights. Like other Constitutional Rights, speedy trial rights can be waived.
Under Florida Law, any delay of the case attributable to the defendant or his/her counsel is a delay that waives speedy trial. This includes defense continuances to prepare the case. A criminal defendant is also able to give an express waiver of his/her speedy trial rights.
This is important because the very first thing a prosecutor will do when served with a Notice of Expiration of Speedy Trial Time is to check the court record to see if there were any defense continuances. If there were, the notice is invalid and the defendant is not entitled to a speedy trial.
Demand for Speedy Trial
Aside from the right to trial within 90/175 days of arrest, a criminal defendant may also file a demand for speedy trial. When such a demand is filed, he/she is indicating that they are ready to proceed to trial within 5 days of filing his/her demand.
No later than 5 days from the filing of the demand for speedy trial, the court must hold a calendar call to schedule trial. At this hearing, the judge must set trial within 45 days. If trial does not commence within 50 days of filing the demand, a defendant must file a Notice of Expiration of Speedy Trial Time, just like in the sections noted above.
Upon filing this notice, if the defendant is not brought to trial within 10 days, his case is forever discharged.
To summarize, once a demand for speedy trial is filed, a defendant must be brought to trial within 60 days or else he/she is forever discharged from the case.
This procedural remedy exists to give criminal defendants the ability to bring their case to a close.
Conclusion - Speedy Trial Rights Prevent Corruption
Pursuant to Florida Law, a criminal defendant has two ways to exercise his/her right to a speedy trial. First, a defendant has the right to be brought to trial within 90/175 days of his/her arrest, depending on if he/she was arrested for a misdemeanor or a felony.
Second and apart from this right, a criminal defendant can demand a speedy trial within 60 days at any point in time.
Failure to bring the defendant to trial within the requisite time periods results in discharge. This drastic consequence is intended to motivate prosecutors and judges to give the defendant the due process he/she is entitled to and which is protected by the U.S. Constitution.
By creating and enforcing these rules, government and the judicial system is controlled by the people and is prevented from charging people with crimes, just to let them linger on indefinitely or rot away in prison cells without the opportunity to defend themselves and demand proof of their guilt.