Chris Sept. 20, 2017

The Sixth Amendment asserts that the accused "shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial." In the justice system though, speedy is not always all that fast. There is not an universal standard for when a case must reach trial. The federal court system and each state have their own laws. In some, the time requirements apply unless waived by the defendant. In others, such as Connecticut, one must assert the speedy trial right. 

Connecticut law provides that criminal trials commence no later than a year after charges are filed or the defendant is arrested, whichever is later. If the defendant is in pretrial detention (i.e. hasn't bonded out), he or she must be brought to trial within eight months. After that time passes, the defendant can file a speedy trial motion. If trial does not commence within thirty days of the motion, it may be dismissed. If the defendant is a sentenced prisoner (on another case), he or she must be brought to trial within 120 days from the filing of a speedy trial motion. The penalty is dismissal. 

Most criminal cases do not go to trial. The cases that do often take longer to go to trial than the time prescribed by law. There care many reasons to both assert or waive the right to speedy trial. Preparation is a common one. Murder cases for example take a long time in the pretrial stage and then a long time to prepare for trial. Another thought is that the State's case may weaken or become harder to prove over time. I once had a case on the trial list that the State had to nolle because key evidence was accidentally destroyed by the police.

You do not always need to file a speedy trial motion to have a speedy trial. Absent motions and scheduling preferences by the parties, courts decide when cases are scheduled for trial. Although Connecticut has a unified court system (as opposed to the system in most other states that involve county and municipal courts in addition to state courts), judicial districts are allowed to set their own rules within the state statutes for scheduling procedures. Some courts might have longer trial lists than others and the judges might have different practices for managing their lists.  I recently tried a case in which my client was in custody and wanted to assert his speedy trial rights because he was optimistic and wanted to get out of jail. I mentioned in a pretrial conference that I would be filing a motion when available. The court did one better and called us in to start trial even earlier. We would up winning. 

There is an old legal maxim that "justice delayed is justice denied." A criminal defendant might think another old phrase: "time is on my side." As always in the law, it depends who you ask and who wins.