THE SOURCES OF OUR SPEEDY TRIAL RIGHT
The right to a speedy trial is one of the most commonly known rights. Provided by the sixth amendment to the United States Constitution, this right protects criminal defendants from an infinite delay of prosecution. However, the U.S. Constitution does not specifically state how long is too long before the government is deemed to have violated this right of a criminal defendant. New York State, on the other hand, does provide specific lengths of time.
The federal and state governments operate on separate levels, and criminal defendants are given the rights and protections of both. States are authorized to give more, but not less, rights than the federal government, to those within their jurisdiction. That being said, the U.S. Constitution gives the right to a speedy trial, and New York State gives the right to a speedy trial within a specific time period.
THE NEW YORK STATE RULE
Criminal Procedure Law Section 30.30 is the statute in New York that sets the legal time limit in regard to speedy trials. While exceptions do exist, the general rule designates the allowable time that a prosecutor has to be ready for trial from the time of arraignment, as follows: (a) six months for a Felony; (b) ninety days for a Class A Misdemeanor; (c) sixty days for a Class B Misdemeanor; and (d) thirty days for a violation. These time limits do NOT represent the statute of limitations for criminal charges to be pressed. That statute of limitations concept is governed by a different Criminal Procedure Law, Section 30.10, and refers to the length of time between the date of crime and the latest date that criminal charges can be brought against a criminal defendant in response to that crime.
WHO DOES THE NEW YORK STATE SPEEDY TRIAL RULE RESTRICT?
Criminal defendants often ask, "How long can the court keep adjourning my case before my speedy trial time is up?" What criminal defendants don't always understand is that the court and the defense attorney are not restricted by the speedy trial statute, 30.30. This statute specifically governs the prosecutor's time limit for trial readiness. If the adjournment is at the request of the court or the defense attorney, no time is charged to the prosecutor. The prosecutor's clock is essentially put on hold any time that the adjournment is not at his or her request.
REASONS FOR ADJOURNMENTS
Defense attorneys take adjournments for strategic reasons. Discovery, motions, gather probation/parole information, research possible immigration consequences, witness availability, etc. Your attorney is there to protect your rights and ensure the best possible outcome. If the attorney decides that any of the aforementioned elements are necessary to your defense, then he or she will request an adjournment and the prosecutor will not be charged any time. In addition, the court may take adjourments for reasons of its own including staff availability, time needed to render decisions on motions and hearings, schedule conflicts, etc. Absent egregious abuse of discretion, there is no specific limit on the amount of adjournments taken by the court.
If the prosecution fails to be ready for trial within the days set by CPL 30.30, your case may be dismissed. Sometimes the prosecutor will acknowledge that their time has run and will dismiss the charges in court. Other times, however, your attorney has to bring a motion to dismiss which the prosecutor has an opportunity to oppose. If the prosecutor argues that speedy trial time is not up, then a judge will have to decide the motion. There are exceptions to the speedy trial rule that could potentionally rescue the prosecutor from running out of time. Unfortunately this does mean more court dates for the criminal defendant regardless of how many days have passed.
Often, prosecutors will argue that their time was "excludable," meaning that a certain number of days should not have been counted against the prosecutor's time limit. Some exceptions that have been argued include police officer witness unavailable due to medical leave or military service, unavailability of criminal defendant because he or she has been detained on a federal charge in a federal facility, etc. These arguments which invovle situations beyond the prosecutor's control have been successful in criminal courts, but it is up to the judge to review all of the facts and arguments and decide whether to grant or deny the Defendant's motion to dismiss. If the Defendant's argument fails, because the prosecutor's time is excludable, it is a good idea to raise the argument that there is still a speedy trial argument under the U.S. Constitution. While this argument can be difficult to win because no specific time limit is designated by the U.S. Constitution, it still contributes to an aggressive defense when the defendant has been subjected to uncessary delays.
KEEP TRACK OF YOUR SPEEDY TRIAL TIME
The best way to keep track of your speedy trial time is to ask your attorney on each court date. Ask who requested the adjournment and for what purpose. Ask if any time has been charged to the prosecutor. Your attorney would be in the best position to give you the most accurate answer because, as stated, this general rule can have exceptions depending on the specific facts of any given case.