Your right to a speedy trial, guaranteed by the federal and state constitutions, means that you are entitled to your day in court without too much of a delay. Unfortunately, there's no precise definition of "too much" (though there are some guidelines, as explained below). Still, you can press for a speedy trial if you feel that the time between your arrest and the as-yet unheld trial is too long. The right applies to criminal cases, not personal injury or other types of civil matters.
Most defendants find the waiting game they have to endure before trial to be very hard. Defendants in Bexar County Texas, for example, can find themselves waiting for misdemeanor jury trials for two and even three years. I have never seen a misdemeanor defendant wait longer than four years for a trial, but case law indicates that it has happened.
The Importance of Getting to Trial Soon
Why were the country’s founding fathers so concerned about the right not just to a trial, but to a speedy trial? Imagine that you have been charged with a crime that you did not commit. From the date of the charge to the date of the trial, you may endure sleepless nights. You may endure lost work due to the pending charges or the court appearances that force you to miss out on wages you desperately need. Waiting for a stressful event to come is unfair.
Stress isn't the end of it. What if your star eyewitness, who can prove you did not commit the crime, dies during the waiting period, or what if she disappears? What if her memory fades? Your defense can be lost in all of the waiting, which is perhaps the most important reason we have a right to a speedy trial.
Getting a Speedy Trial
So, if all these constitutions protect us, why do people sometimes wait three years? What can you do to actually get a speedy trial? The answer is, you have to ask for it. Ask for your speedy trial over and over and over. Specifically, tell your lawyer to demand a speedy trial on your behalf. Your lawyer will put the demand in writing, and file with the court a “Speedy Trial Motion.”
Once the demand has been filed in writing, your lawyer must demand to have the speedy trial motion that she filed heard before the court. Your lawyer must go to court, with you, and explain why you need a speedy trial.
Then, if the court denies giving you a trial date that is in the near future, soon thereafter your lawyer should file a Motion to Dismiss for failure to afford you a speedy trial. At this time, another hearing should be set, where your lawyer will argue for a dismissal because you did not get a speedy trial.
How Soon is Soon Enough?
How many days should pass before the trial is considered not speedy enough? There is no definite answer. Still, eight months is the magic number -- after a wait of that duration, a court will fully evaluate whether a person has waited too long for the trial under a speedy trial analysis. The courts consider four factors when deciding whether a speedy trial right has been violated:
- Length of delay. How many months have passed since you were arrested?
- Reason for delay. Who was causing all the months to pass without a trial—was it you? The prosecutor? The court?
- Assertion of the right. Did your lawyer ask for a speedy trial?
- Prejudice caused because of delay. What witnesses have forgotten the event, what evidence have you lost because you did not get a speedy trial?
If, in light of all of the factors, a judge thinks that you did your best to get a speedy trial, that you have had to wait too long, and that your defense or emotional state has been harmed, then you may get the case dismissed.
In sum, you must be the squeaky wheel if you want a speedy trial. Ask and ask again.