A “Speedy Trial” Can Take a Long, Long Time
It is a sad fact of our criminal justice system that the wheels of justice often turn very slowly. If you’ve been charged with a crime and you desperately want to clear your name and move forward with your life, every day, week, and month that goes by before your trial can seem like an eternity.
“Speedy” is a Relative Term
Under the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Section 12 of the Indiana Constitution, all criminal defendants have the right to a “speedy trial.” Indiana Criminal Rule 4(c) was enacted to implement those constitutional rights. If the state takes too long to bring a criminal prosecution to trial (through no fault of the defendant), the defendant can assert a violation of those rights and ask that the case be dismissed.
The problem is that what we may think of as “speedy” is probably a lot quicker than what the law considers “speedy” for purposes of determining whether a defendant’s rights have been violated. Notwithstanding the efforts of both you and your criminal defense attorney, your case still may be delayed and take a long (but constitutionally permissible) time to get to trial.
4 Common Reasons for Delays
Trials and hearings can be delayed for a variety of reasons. The following are some of the most common.
- The Prosecution Needs More Time to Prepare. Prosecutors handle a huge number of cases at any given time and sometimes they simply cannot keep up with all of them. If your case is particularly complex, there’s generally a greater chance that the prosecutor will require more time to prepare. Of course, the same can be said for criminal defense attorneys. Although it can be frustrating to wait, you want your lawyer to leave no stone unturned, which includes having time to gather all available evidence in your defense.
- Overbooked Court Schedule. Just like prosecutors, the courts have full caseloads and there are simply not enough hours in the day or days in the month for all of them to be handled as quickly as would be desired. Just like airlines often overbook flights expecting some folks to cancel or miss their flight, courts schedule multiple trials on the same day, anticipating that one or more defendants will accept a plea, removing the need for a full trial. Problems arise when this fails to happen and two trials are scheduled on the same day. In these situations, at least one trial will get bumped.
- Busy Attorneys’ Schedules. Just as courts have overloaded calendars, attorneys on both sides may have busy schedules. Getting everyone on the same page (literally) is sometimes challenging.
- Witness Unavailability. In criminal trials, the defense often depends on witness testimony. Witnesses are human beings, and they are subject to the same emergencies, accidents, and last-minute scheduling conflicts as everyone else. If a witness supporting your defense is unavailable, it’s probably in your best interest to file a motion for a continuance.
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