Where Does the Right to a Speedy Trial Come From?
The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees, among other things, that:
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed
This right is further elaborated on by Va. Code § 19.2-243.
Where a district court has found that there is probable cause to believe that an adult has committed a felony, the accused, if he is held continuously in custody thereafter, shall be forever discharged from prosecution for such offense if no trial is commenced in the circuit court within five months from the date such probable cause was found by the district court; and if the accused is not held in custody but has been recognized for his appearance in the circuit court to answer for such offense, he shall be forever discharged from prosecution therefor if no trial is commenced in the circuit court within nine months from the date such probable cause was found.
The time limits start running from when probable cause is found, which occurs at a preliminary hearing. This hearing itself may be set weeks or months out from the date of arrest. The five or nine month period starts after that.
But “the provisions of this section shall not apply to such period of time as the failure to try the accused was caused….by a natural disaster, civil disorder, or act of God”. It is unclear how this provision will affect trials during the current Coronavirus pandemic, but defendants should be zealously guarding their speedy trial rights during this time.
What Does This Mean For Me?
With courts reacting to the Coronavirus (COVID-19), many trial will face delays. It is important that any delay in your trial does not constitute a ‘waiver’ of your speedy trial rights. The pressure to move cases around and make room on dockets may also lead prosecutors to offer new plea deals, or dismiss (“Nolle Pros”) your charge- only to bring it back later.
All of this will require the assistance of a knowledgeable attorney help navigate and make sure your rights are protected and that your interests are being looked out for.