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What Counts as a “Speedy Trial” in a Misdemeanor Case?

When you are accused of a crime, you have the right to a trial to confront and challenge the prosecution’s evidence. Both the United States and Texas state constitutions make it clear that every person charged with a crime has a fundamental right to a “speedy trial.” But how “speedy” is speedy? And what happens if there is an undue delay in bringing your case before a jury?

The truth is that these questions are answered on a case-by-case basis. As the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) explained in a recent decision, State v. Lopez, the speedy trial right cannot be “quantified into a specified number of days or months.” So there is no strict time limit, as there is for initiating a prosecution under a statute of limitations.

In lieu of a bright-line rule, courts instead look at a variety of factors to decide if so much time has passed as to constitute a violation of a defendant’s right to a speedy trial. These factors broadly include the length of the delay, the reason for the delay, whether the defendant promptly asserted their right to a speedy trial, and the likely prejudice to a defendant caused by any delay.

CCA: 112 Days Is Not Too Long to Wait for Misdemeanor Trial

The Lopez case is instructive. Here, police initially arrested the defendant on a felony charge in April 2017. In July 2017, prosecutors decided to drop the felony charge and instead filed new documents charging him with misdemeanor assault. Preliminary hearings were then held in late July and early August. At the August hearing, the trial judge granted the defendant’s speedy trial motion–effectively, an order dismissing the case because approximately four months had passed since the defendant’s arrest. More notably, the defendant had spent 112 days in jail awaiting trial for a felony charge that was later reduced to a misdemeanor.

The CCA eventually held, however, that a 112-day delay did not automatically violate the defendant’s constitutional right to a speedy trial. Indeed, the Court said that based on prior cases, a 112-day delay was “not an extraordinary amount of time” to wait. More to the point, the CCA said the delay was not based on “bad faith” by the prosecution. The district attorney’s office simply exercised its discretion to dismiss the felony and refile it as a misdemeanor within the allowed time period.

The CCA also said it found the defendant’s decision to file a speedy trial motion at the August 2017 hearing was somewhat “disingenuous.” At the hearing, the district attorney said it was ready for an immediate trial. But defense counsel had actually raised the issue of his client’s competence to stand trial–which if true would have meant the trial could not have proceeded anyway.

Contact Houston Criminal Defense Attorney Tad Nelson Today

Nobody wants to be stuck sitting in jail awaiting trial. That is why it is imperative to work with an experienced Galveston misdemeanor crimes lawyer who will zealously defend your rights in court. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today if you need to speak with an attorney right away.