Some states have laws which require cases to be taken to trial or dismissed within a given time period. Texas had such a law, but it was ruled unconstitutional in 1987 in Meshell v. State. For any specific state, consult a lawyer licensed to practive there.
US Constitutional Law and the Four Part Balancing test
All prosecutions, state or federal, are subject to the US Constitution. There is no fixed speedy trial time limit for prosecutions under the Constitution, but the courts have been instructed to conduct a "four part balancing test" to determine if the defendant has been denied a speedy trial. The four parts to be weighted are 1) the length of the delay, 2) the reason or reasons for the delay, 3) did the defendant assert his right to a speedy trial, and 4) did the defendant suffer any prejudice as a result of the delay?
A delay must be at least 8 months long for a speedy trial claim to even be considered. Most case dismissals involve delays in excess of 18 months. The time period starts whenever the person is arrested, or whenever the charge is filed, whichever happens first.
Understanding the balancing test
The second step in the balancing test is determining who or what caused the delay. Delays by the prosecution weigh heavily towards a speedy trial violation. Neutral delays,or delays by the court, weigh slightly towards a speedy trial violation. Delays by the defense weigh strongly against a speedy trial violation. If one ignores other trial strategy, then, for speedy trial purposes, the defense should try to avoid requesting resets and continuances.
The third factor to be weighed is did the defendant assert his or her right to a speedy trial? Generally, to establish a speedy trial violation, the defense must demonstrate one or more requests for a speedy trial. It is always best to make the request formally, and in writing.
The last factor is proving that the defendant was harmed or prejudiced by the delay.
Proving Speedy Trial Prejudice
There are various types of prejudice. The one weighed most heavily in favor of the defense is anything which interferes with the ability of the defense to prepare or present its case. This generally falls in the category of lost or missing evidence or witnesses.
Other harm or prejudice can be financial or emotional. If the defendant has to take time off work to attend several court dates, that can cost him money, or it can even cost him his job. A defendant may miss out on a promotion, or a new position because of pending charges. A defendant may not be able to relocate because of pending charges. Perhaps a defendant might lose child custody, or even have a spouse leave them over prolonged unresolved charges. A defendant may have nightmares, or need psychological assistance from the strain of prolonged delays. The important thing is that the harm must be proven by testimony at the speedy trial hearing.
So What Happens if You are Denied a Speedy Trial?
The courts have held that the only fair remedy for the denial of a speedy trial is a full dismissal of the case!