Asserting the Right to a Speedy Trial

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By Guy Zimmerman, Esq.

Delays in the Court process are prejudicial and often result in oppressive pretrial incarceration, anxiety and mental anguish for the accused, and the possibility that the accused’s witnesses will be impaired by dimming memories resulting in the loss of exculpatory evidence. These are among the reasons why even those accused of the most serious crimes retain the fundamental right to a speedy trial and why a violation of this right is considered so serious that the only remedy is dismissal of the charges against the accused.

The right to a speedy trial is a Constitutional right, a protection offered by the Constitution of the State of Washington and adopted by Criminal Court Rule 3.3. As outlined by the criminal rule, those accused of a crime have the right to a trial within 60 days if held in custody, or within 90 days if released and await trial out of custody. The burden to hold a speedy trial falls upon the Courts and the Prosecutors, and time begins to count after the arraignment proceeding.

To trigger a claim for speedy trial violation, the accused must make a showing that the time between filing the charges and trial exceeded the ordinary interval for prosecution and crossed into presumptively prejudicial delay. The ordinary interval is that which has been outlined by criminal court rule as cited herein. At that point, the Court will apply a balancing analysis considering the following factors:

(1) the length of the delay,

(2) the reason for the delay,

(3) the defendant’s assertion of his right, and

(4) the prejudice to the defendant.

None of these factors alone is sufficient or necessary to find a violation, but they assist in determining whether the speedy trial right was violated. 

The reason for a delay in the Court process will be the focal point of the balancing analysis, and who is more to blame for the delay often dictates the outcome of cases. Thus, while the burden of speedy trial may fall upon the court or prosecutor initially, conduct by the accused and any delay caused by their conduct, or the conduct of their attorney, can nullify or toll the right to a speedy trial. When a delay is attributable to the defendant, even extensive delays of months or even years will not be considered prejudicial or a reason to justify dismissal of the charges.

As such, choosing counsel who can educate you on how to proceed forward with your case expeditiously can determine whether speedy trial rights will apply to your case. After the proceeding has been initiated, there is a responsibility to assert the right to a speedy trial. Requests for continuances, failure to timely review evidence and prepare for trial can make it difficult, if not impossible, to prove that you were denied a speedy trial.

While there are times when exceptional circumstances, such as a state of emergency, may justify a temporary stay of the speedy trial right for a time, you must be ready as soon as the court resumes its normal court of business to assert the right to a speedy trial as affirmative effort must be made to secure a timely resolution to your case.

If you have any questions about asserting your right to speedy trial, or are in need of legal representaiton for a criminal matter contact Gravis Law, and one of our attorneys can assist you.