Effective use of the speedy trial rule can be a powerful defensive tool because it limits the amount of time the state attorney has to get ready for trial. The decision to use the speedy trial rule must take in many factors and must be made with great care. If your strategy is to avoid trial at all costs, then you will most likely want to waive speedy trial and negotiate for a good deal with the state attorney. If the state attorney is not willing to accept your best offer, you may want to use the speedy trial rule to apply a little pressure on the state attorney to see if his or her position on your offer changes. But be careful, using speedy trial may end all negotiations with the state attorney and motivate him or her to prepare for your trial and seek a harsh sentence. An experienced and skilled attorney can guide you in making this critical decision. The speedy trial rule only applies when you are charged with a new crime, it does not apply to violations of probation.
STANDARD TIME LIMITS
Rule 3.191 of the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure sets the following time limits:
In felony cases the trial must commence within 175 days from date the defendant was taken into custody. In misdemeanor cases the trial must commence within 90 days from date the defendant was taken into custody. If there was a trial started that resulted in a mistrial being declared, the new trial must commence within 90 days from the date of trial court's order resulting in a new trial. If a conviction was reversed on appeal, the new trial must commence within 90 days from the date the trial court receives an order of the appellate court resulting in a new trial.
STARTING THE CLOCK
The time clock starts when a person is "taken into custody." "Taken into custody" means when a person is arrested or served with a notice to appear in lieu of physical arrest. A person is not "taken into custody" when they are given a citation for a noncriminal traffic infraction.
SPEEDY TRIAL UPON DEMAND
A defendant may demand a speedy trial by filing a written pleading with the court and serving a copy on the state attorney. The pleading must clearly indicate that it is a "Demand for Speedy Trial" in the caption. A demand for speedy trial sets shorter time limits for the state attorney to prepare for trial. The court must hold a hearing within 5 days of the demand and set a trial no more than 45 days from the date of the hearing on the demand. This gives the state attorney a maximum of 50 days to prepare for trial. The effect of a demand for speedy trial is that the defendant is telling the court and the state attorney that they are available for trial, that they have diligently investigated the case, and that they are prepared or will be prepared for trial within five days. The defendant may not withdraw a demand except on order of the court, with consent by the state, or on good cause shown and the defendant is not entitled to a continuance if unprepared for trial.
EXTENSIONS OF TIME
A speedy trial time period may be extended, if it has not already expired, if both sides agree or upon order of the court. The court has wide discretion when deciding whether or not to extend a speedy trial time period. The speedy trial rule provides a list of exceptional circumstances that may justify an extension of time.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN TIME RUNS OUT?
Surprisingly a defendant is NOT entitled to automatic discharge of his or her case upon the expiration of the applicable speedy trial time period. After the speedy trial time has expired, the defendant must file a written pleading entitled "Notice of Expiration of Speedy Trial Time" and serve a copy on the state attorney. This notice triggers the "recapture" period. The recapture period is a 15 day window in which the court will have a hearing on the notice of expiration and set a trial within 15 days. If the trial is not commenced within 15 days of the notice of expiration, then the defendant may move to have the case discharged.
CONSTITUTIONAL SPEEDY TRIAL
The 6th amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America guarantees that in all criminal prosecutions, the accused has a right to a speedy trial. The right attaches at the time of arrest or indictment whichever comes first. Long delays before arrest or indictment are governed by the due process clause (this covers situations where the government's delays prejudice the defendant because evidence is lost or witnesses have died). The constitutional right to speedy trial is available even if a defendant waives the statutory speedy trial. Speedy trial claims are determined under a balancing test where no single factor is either necessary or sufficient to finding a violation. The remedy for violation of the constitutional speedy trial right is dismissal.
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