How does the Coronavirus affect your right to a speedy trial in Virginia?
The Sixth Amendment
The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees, among other things, that:
"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed..."
This right is further elaborated on by Va. Code § 19.2-243. This code section, summarized, states that a defendant has a right to be tried - or shall be "forever discharged from prosecution"- within a certain time frame. This time frame starts running when probable cause is found, and depends on whether the defendant is being held in custody or is out on bond. If the defendant is in custody, the time period is 5 months, if the defendant is out on bond, the time period is 9 months.
The time limits start running from when probable cause is found, which occurs at a preliminary hearing. This hearing itself may be set weeks or months out from the date of arrest. The five or nine month period starts after that. It is unclear how this provision will affect trials during the current Coronavirus pandemic- and if such circumstances may constitute an exception to the speedy trial time limits-but defendants should be zealously guarding their speedy trial rights during this time.
What To Look Out For
With courts reacting to the Coronavirus, many trial will face delays. It is important that any delay in your trial does not constitute a ‘waiver’ of your speedy trial rights.
The pressure to move cases around and make room on dockets may also lead prosecutors to offer new plea deals, or dismiss (“Nolle Pros”) your charge- only to bring it back later.
It is also important to thingkabout getting bond. A defendant may have been denied bond previously, but may still have recourse available in the form of a bond motion, or appeal. Further, if bond was denied before the Coronvirus, the change in circumstances may be good cause to file a motion to amend bond, or reconsider the terms. While being released on bond will increase the time limits under Virginia's speedy trial code, this time will be spent at home, rather than in custody.
All of this will require the assistance of a knowledgeable attorney help navigate and make sure your rights are protected and that your interests are being looked out for.
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