Learn About A Speedy Trial And How The COVID-19 Pandemic Has Influenced What This Means For Your Case
To say that the novel coronavirus changed the world is an understatement. It has changed the way we work, how shop, learn and socialize – name one aspect of life and you can readily see the ways “normal” changed due to the pandemic. It should come as no surprise that social distancing, masks and sanitization efforts have also changed the way that the legal system operates. Our right to a speedy trial is no exception.
What Is A Speedy Trial?
Like all states, Florida is bound by the sixth amendment to the Constitution of the United States. It says that “the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.” As the Constitution does not define what a speedy trial means, that leaves the interpretation of the amendment up to the states.
As it applies in criminal defense cases, in the state of Florida, this has been addressed in the Rules of Criminal Procedure. In short, Criminal Procedure rule 3.191 requires defendants be brought to trial within 90 days for a misdemeanor arrest and 175 days for a felony arrest. There is also a provision for Speedy Trial Upon Demand; this provides that “every person charged with a crime by indictment or information shall have the right to demand a trial within 60 days, by filing a pleading entitled ‘Demand for Speedy Trial’”. If this rule is not followed, the accused can invoke their right to a speedy trial to start a final clock towards a trial or, if not commenced in a timely manner, a discharge. This rule also allows for a waiver of the right to a speedy trial which is sometimes appropriate for a defense case.
How does all of this work in the time of COVID-19?
Under Rule 3.191, the courts can extend the speedy trial timelines when “exceptional circumstances are shown to exist” including the “unexpected illness, incapacity or unforeseeable and unavoidable absence of a witness or other person necessary for trial.” It was under this exception to the rule that Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady issued orders in March of 2020 to suspend jury trials and other proceedings at courthouses across the state when COVID-19 forced the shut down of the State of Florida.
In the time since that order, there have been two cases filed in the 1st District Court of Appeal regarding the denial of speedy trial for two defendants, one in Alachua County and one in Clay County. Two separate judges came to two different conclusions about how the speedy-trial requirements should have been applied under Justice Canady’s orders; one ruled in favor of the defendant and one against.
Despite the continuation of the pandemic, the legal process had to start up again. As courts reopened in 2020, we saw a shift in how court proceedings were handled, with differing measures depending on the location and numbers of local cases. Temperature and health checks are administered when entering the courthouse, many sessions are conducted via Zoom, and a remote jury program was piloted in some circuit courts.
If you are facing a charges related to a DUI, drug charges, battery or any other criminal defense case and have been asked to appear in court, please note that the court system may have different rules and requirements prior to your arrival. You will want to check the individual court websites to see what measures are in place before you arrive.
Let us help you!
At the Law Offices of William B. Bennett, we can assist you in determining when speedy trial procedures started in your case and how the Supreme Court’s suspension of the Speedy Trial rule may apply to your criminal defense case in St. Petersburg. We may even determine if a waiver of your right to a speedy trial is applicable in your case. Call us at (727) 821-8000 or contact us on our website here so that we may advocate for you.