If you are accused of a crime, you have a right to a “speedy” trial that is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, the Mississippi Constitution, and other statutes and rules.
The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution begins by stating “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial . . . .” I won’t comment on whether you will actually enjoy this right, but you certainly do have it. This right has been applied to state prosecutions through the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Klopfer v. State of North Carolina, 386 U.S. 213 (1967). What this means is that, through the U.S. Constitution, the right to a speedy trial is preserved for you not only in federal court, but in state court as well.
But if that weren’t enough, the state of Mississippi also guarantees the right to a speedy trial in the state constitution. MS Const. Art. 3, § 26 (“In all criminal prosecutions the accused shall have a right to . . . a speedy trial by an impartial jury . . . “). You’ve also got a statutory right to a speedy trial in Mississippi, which is a little more specific:
Unless good cause be shown, and a continuance duly granted by the court, all offenses for which indictments are presented to the court shall be tried no later than two hundred seventy (270) days after the accused has been arraigned.
Miss. Code Ann. § 99-17-1. The constitutional right to a speedy trial exists separately from the statutory right. Usually, if one of these issues is present the other must be considered as well.
So we’ve established that you’ve got the right, but what does it mean? The constitutional provisions are so general that they have resulted in much litigation trying to interpret what is meant by “speedy.”
If we raise a speedy trial issue in your case, we will construct a “timeline” for the court, showing the dates of each significant event in your case, and demonstrating how the government’s delay has violated your rights. After we present this to the judge in the form of a motion, the judge will consider the following factors in deciding the issue:
- The length of the delay;
- The reason for the delay;
- Your assertion of your rights (whether you actually demanded a speedy trial early on); and
- Whether the delay was actually prejudicial to you.
Smith v. State, 977 So.2d 1227 (Miss. 2008)(citing Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (1972). The court is going to consider such things as whether you and your lawyer consented to any continuances in the case, whether waiting in jail has been “oppressive” to you, and whether the preparation of your defense to the case has been impaired by the delay in bringing you to trial. Mere passage of time is usually not enough. We are going to have to show some actual prejudice you have suffered as a result of the delay.
Practically speaking, I would not advise pinning your hopes and dreams on a speedy trial issue that may be present in your case. Not many defenses are successful on this issue alone. But an aggressive, competent criminal defense attorney will review your case for each and every potential issue that will be of benefit to you, and advise you accordingly.