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What Is Considered a “Speedy Trial” When It Comes to a Misdemeanor Offense?

The Constitution guarantees every criminal defendant’s right to a “speedy” trial. This right applies to both felony and misdemeanor offenses. But what is considered “speedy” from a legal standpoint? If you are forced to wait more than a year for trial, is that a violation of your rights? And will a judge automatically dismiss the charges due to such a delay?

Houston Court Rules Defendant Failed to Assert Rights in a Timely Manner

As the Texas First District Court of Appeals here in Houston explained in a recent decision, State v. Pell, there is no “bright-line rule” when it comes to alleged violations of a defendant’s right to a speedy trial. The U.S. Supreme Court has established a general guideline that a delay of more than one year is “presumptively prejudicial.” But even then, the prosecution may introduce evidence justifying any delay beyond one year. The defendant also has the burden of showing that they made a timely assertion of their right to a speedy trial, and that any delay has prejudiced their ability to receive a fair trial.

gavel and book in court room

In the Pell case, the First District reversed a trial court’s ruling in favor of the defense on an alleged speedy trial violation. Police initially arrested the defendant in October 2017, accusing him of violating a protective order, which is a misdemeanor offense in Texas. Prosecutors did not formally charge the defendant until March 2019, however, more 18 months later. After another two months passed, the defendant moved to dismiss the charges, citing a violation of his right to a speedy trial.

The First District acknowledged that the delay of over a year was presumptively prejudicial and weighed in favor of a dismissal. Similarly, the state’s failure to offer any justification for the delay favored dismissal. That said, the appeals court also found the defendant “never asked for a speedy trial” after his initial arrest in 2017. He waited until after the state filed its formal complaint in 2019 before taking any action. The defendant may have assumed that he was not required to act until formal charges were filed, but the First District said there was no legal “authority” supporting that assumption. Given this, and given the defendant failed to provide any evidence regarding how the delay “affected his ability to defend himself against the accusation that he violated the protective order,” the appeals court said his trial could proceed.

Speak with a Houston Misdemeanor Crimes Defense Lawyer Today

The Constitution affords criminal defendants many important due process protections. But these are often “use it or lose it” rights. That is to say, a failure to timely assert a right can lead a judge to find it has been forfeited. For this reason, it is important that even when facing a misdemeanor charge, you act in a proactive manner to assert and defend your rights.

An experienced criminal defense attorney can help. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Houston, League City or Galveston today if you are facing a misdemeanor charge and need qualified legal advice from a Board-certified lawyer today. Call (281) 280-0100