Last Updated: 05.06.2020
Sometimes it might sound silly or oxymoronic (given the slow and sometimes painful pace of our criminal justice system), but you have an absolute constitutional right to a speedy trial. This does not mean you have a right to what a layperson would call a speedy trial, immediate trial, or even a quick one. Instead it means that you have a constitutional right, once properly charged within the applicable statute of limitations, to a trial in a speedy and reasonable time frame.
Is that Bob Barker?
The main Supreme Court case for speedy trial case law is called Barker v. Wingo (not Bob Barker – this Barker allegedly murdered someone and was arrested in 1958 and not tried until 1963). Barker v. Wingo lays out four factors for a court to consider when deciding if a person’s speedy trial right has been violated after being charged with a Maryland Criminal law:
- The length of the trial delay (e.g. 5 months v. 5 years)
- The reason for the trial delay (e.g. defense postponement v. government postponement and why did the government ask for the postponement?)
- Assertion of the right to a speedy trial (e.g. if you ask for 10 postponements, you can be held to “de facto” waive your speedy trial right, but if you are ready for trial each and every trial date and affirmatively object to postponements)
- Prejudice to the Defendant. This is the most difficult factor to prove, but generally, if you are incarcerated pretrial and/or if you have lost an opportunity to obtain witnesses on your behalf because of the delay you can show prejudice.
Obviously there are entire law books filled with cases further explaining what each of those factors means and how states, courts, and Maryland lawyers interpret them. The bottom line is that your right to a speedy trial is designed to prevent the government charging you with a crime then asking for a postponement after postponement while they continue to build a case against you (as in Barker’s case). However, there are practical considerations.
It’s not always strategically the best move to assert your speedy trial right. If you’re on bail and the State has a strong case against you, it might be your speedy ticket to jail. Here are some practical pointers:
- Sometimes delay helps – Police retire, move, or quit. Civilian witnesses do the same and so do prosecutors.
- If you’re not in jail, don’t be in such a rush to go there – See above, if you’re not in jail, perhaps you shouldn’t be in such a rush
- Every jurisdiction is different – delay in Baltimore County may be much shorter than Baltimore City – where delays of up to 2 years or more are commonplace.
- Memories fail – with an 18m or 2-year delay, witnesses are certainly going to have a very difficult time recalling incidents without detailed reports or notes of what happened.
- Every type of violation of Maryland criminal laws is different – sometimes certain cases simply take longer to prepare and you and your attorney need additional time to prepare your case. Murder is going to inherently be more complicated than a simple drug possession case.
Every situation is different, that’s why it is critically important to have a Maryland Lawyer who knows and understands not only Barker but the practical factors and can give you good advice that will ensure the best results to your unique situation.