How COVID-19 Affects Florida’s Speedy Trial Rules
A thorough look at the impact of COVID-19 on the Florida Trial system.
IntroductionThe COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the lives of many, including how criminal trials are conducted. If you are charged with a crime, contact a criminal defense lawyer to understand your rights and what to expect from the court process during the pandemic. Don Pumphrey is a trusted criminal defense attorney in Tallahassee that can help you navigate this everchanging process. Contact Pumphrey Law today at (850) 681-7777 or send an online message for a free consultation.
Florida’s Speedy Trial Rules Under Normal CircumstancesA criminal defendant in Florida has the constitutional guarantee of a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Florida Constitution. Defendants charged with a misdemeanor are entitled to a trial within ninety days after they have been taken into custody, while defendants charged with a felony are entitled to a trial within 175 days after they have been taken into custody. Under normal circumstances, a defendant who desires to obtain a trial sooner has the right to a trial within sixty days by filing a demand for a speedy trial. If the defendant is not brought to trial within this period, and the delay was not attributable to the defendant, the court must schedule a trial within ten days. If the trial does not occur within this period, the defendant may be entitled to dismissal and discharge.
Florida’s COVID-19 Speedy Trial RulesThe right to a speedy trial is firmly protected. This right, however, can be extended or tolled for several reasons, including unavoidable absences, illness, or incapacity of a person needed for trial. Two reasons are particularly relevant to the COVID-19 pandemic. First, a court can extend the standard timeline if defendants and essential witnesses are not available. The pandemic makes it increasingly likely that parties will struggle to procure witnesses as people may fall ill or are avoiding larger gatherings. Second, the timeline can be modified if it “serves the ends of justice.” During the pandemic, avoiding public gatherings can serve the health needs of everyone involved in a trial.
In March of 2020, the Florida Supreme Court suspended speedy trial procedures in response to the pandemic. Since then, the Court has issued several Administrative Orders altering emergency trial measures in response to the pandemic’s changing status. As of May 6, 2021, the Florida Supreme Court has held that all time periods involving speedy trial procedures in criminal proceedings will remain suspended until ninety days after the circuit or county within the circuit has transitioned to Phase 3 of the pandemic. Phase 3 occurs when an effective vaccine is adequately available and in use and in-person contact is more broadly authorized. At this time, all circuits and counties are operating in Phase 2 (in-person contact is authorized for certain purposes but requires protective measures) or Phase 3.
When the speedy trial rules are reinstated within a circuit or county, any time accumulated during the suspension will be subtracted from the time periods provided by the standard speedy trial rules. If the defendant is not brought to trial within this period, the standard ten-day period to go to trial has been increased to thirty days until the circuit or county has transitioned to Phase 4. Phase 4 will occur when COVID-19 no longer presents a significant health risk to public health and safety.
Ultimately, the government still has the responsibility to ensure that all criminal defendants receive a speedy trial. Lengthy continuances are not appropriate when COVID-19 is not largely to blame for the delay or when the delay is a scapegoat for a lack of diligence.
This Article was Written by Caroline Calavan