The crushing impact a pending criminal charge can have on someone’s life should not be underestimated. Often, the mere fact that you have been accused of a crime causes others in the community to think less of you, to avoid you socially, or even for employers to let you go. This is the idea that gave rise to the well-known saying, “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
Unreasonable delays in resolving pending criminal charges serve no party’s interests. During the time defendants must wait to resolve their charges, they have their freedom limited by bail conditions, and many are held in custody, denied their liberty until the case is closed.
The Right to a Speedy Trial Guaranteed
The right to a speedy and public trial is guaranteed in the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Section 16 of the Constitution of the State of Florida.
The rule is enforced through Rule 3.191 of the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure.
The Florida speedy trial rule sets strict limits on the time within which the state must start a defendant’s criminal trial:
- Misdemeanor trial must begin within 90 days of arrest or service of notice in lieu of arrest.
- Felony trial must commence within 175 days of arrest.
No formal demand for a speedy trial must be filed to start the speedy trial clock running. Instead, if no trial has begun within the time permitted by Rule 3.191, the defendant must file a Notice of Expiration (NOE) of Speedy Trial Time to alert the court to the issue.
When the defendant files their Notice of Expiration, the court then must hold a hearing within 5 days unless “exceptional” circumstances exist. The trial must be conducted within 10 days of the hearing. If the defendant’s trial does not begin within that time, the defendant shall be permanently discharged from the indictment and from any other charge that may have arisen related to the same facts.
Exceptional Circumstances Defined
The fact that the speedy trial clock can be extended by “exceptional circumstances” requires that we look at what events or conditions the courts will see as exceptional. Under the speedy trial rule, the court may extend the speedy trial clock in any of the following circumstances:
- unexpected illness or incapacity of a party or witness essential for the trial to be fair,
- unavoidable absence or unavailability of an essential party or witness,
- delay in obtaining some essential evidence for a trial date, despite diligent,
- the complexity of the case,
- developing material events affecting the trial
- the state showing defendant caused serious delay and disruption of trial preparation,
But these circumstances must truly be exceptional. Recognizing that some rare circumstance can justify a reasonable extension of the speedy trial clock merely reflects the fact that fairness occasionally requires flexibility. The right to a speedy trial remains of paramount importance.
Florida courts have ruled that common delays caused by overcrowded dockets, insufficient jury pools, or witnesses failing to appear are not good grounds or exceptional circumstances justifying an extending the speedy trial window.
Nor can the court retroactively rule that a prior delay was due to exceptional circumstances to excuse the state failing to commence a trial in time. No court may approve an extension of the speedy trial window after the time expires.
Demanding a Speedy Trial within 50 Days
Under Florida’s speedy trial rule, the accused is not required to demand a speedy trial to be entitled to one within 90 or 175 days.
However, any defendant charged by indictment or by criminal information can demand a speedy trial within 50 days of filing their demand. By filing such a speedy trial demand, the defendant declares that they have fully investigated and prepared the case for trial and are “ready for trial.” The rule holds them to that declaration.
The defendant cannot later seek to delay the trial to complete discovery or do another function that was part of the trial preparation they asserted was done.
When Can a Speedy Trial Demand Be Stricken?
If an accused formally demands a speedy trial, and the court schedules the trial as required by the rule, there are still circumstances in which the trial can be delayed. Situations in which the court is permitted to strike the demand for speedy trial as though it were not filed include the following:
- the defendant or their lawyer failing to show up for a required pretrial hearing,
- the defense is not ready for trial on the trial date,
- the defendant is held in custody outside of Florida.
Simply put, defendants cannot complain about their trial being delayed if they significantly contributed to the delay. Experienced criminal defense lawyers will contest the state’s suggestion that the defendant’s own conduct delayed the trial if the prosecution’s failure to meet its discovery obligations prevented the defendant from being ready for trial.
When Can a Court Extend a Trial Date after the Defendant Demanded a Speedy Trial?
When a trial date is set to comply with the defendant’s demand for a speedy trial, the date may still be delayed if any of the following events occur:
- The court orders the delay based on exceptional circumstances,
- The parties enter into a stipulation in open court,
- The court orders an examination of the defendant’s mental competency or physical incapacity,
- The defendant is on trial on other charges,
- The state appeals a pretrial order,
- DNA tests are being conducted on the defendant’s behalf.
Skilled Criminal Defense Lawyers Master Florida’s Speedy Trial Rule
Whether an accused chooses to file a demand for speedy trial and lock into a tight trial schedule or they choose to file a Notice of Expiration of Speedy Trial Time is a decision they should only make after consulting with an experienced criminal defense trial lawyer.
Every case involves unique facts, individual witnesses, and a singular combination of other factors that will indicate whether a speedy trial is in the defendant’s best interest. In some cases, delaying a trial may benefit the accused.
Get experienced criminal defense counsel on speedy trial Issues with our attorneys at Stechschulte Nell. Call us today for a case review at 813-280-1244.