The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States provides 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, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

            The Constitution does not define what a speedy trial means.  There is a Speedy Trial Act governing federal criminal charges and in Florida state trials there is a criminal rule of procedure that addresses speedy trial.  The Florida rule provides for Speedy Trial without Demand which requires defendants to be brought to trial within 90 days from the arrest on a misdemeanor, or 175 days from the arrest for a felony.  There is also a provision for Speedy Trial Upon Demand this provides that every person charged with a crime by indictment or information shall have the right to demand a trial within 60 days by filing a pleading entitled “Demand for Speedy Trial”.  These provisions can be found in Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure Rule 3.191.

            The periods of time under Rule 3.191 can be extended under certain circumstances.  The timeframe can be extended by stipulation or agreement between the accused and the State Prosecutor; Order of the Court on its own motion or motion by either party in exceptional circumstances; by written or recorded Order of the Court with good cause shown by the accused; written or recorded Order of the Court for a period of reasonable necessary delay for things like examination for mental competency to be performed; or by Administrative Order issued  by the Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court.  Check with your Jacksonville criminal attorney to determine the application of the speedy trial rule to your case.

            In an attempt to try and prevent the spread of COVID-19, Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady issued orders in March of 2020 that suspended jury trials and other proceedings at courthouses across the state.  There were two cases filed in the 1st District Court of Appeal in September of 2020 regarding the denial of speedy trial for two defendants.  One in Alachua County and one in Clay County.  The two Judges came to different conclusions about how the speedy-trial requirements should have been applied as the Court system tries to work under Justice Canady’s orders.  Your local Jacksonville criminal attorney can assist you in determining when Speedy Trial procedures started in your case and the potential applicability of the Supreme Court’s suspension of the Speedy Trial rule.

            In Alachua County, Circuit Judge James Colaw issued a decision favoring the Defendant.  In that case the Defendant was arrested on February 3, 2020 for a felony aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.  As of August 26, 2020, the prosecutors in that case had not filed an indictment or information in the case.  The timeframe between February 3, 2020 and August 26, 2020 was more than the 175 days allowed under Rule 3.191 for felony cases.  The State prosecutors argued that the time requirement to “formally charge the Defendant had been continuously suspended by the Florida Supreme Court starting when the administrative order was issued on March 13, 2020.  The Judge in that case ruled that the Defendant should be “discharged” because the Supreme Court’s orders addressed a suspension of speedy-trial procedures, it did not allow a delay in filing formal charges.  The Judge in that case held that the Supreme Court orders addressed a suspension of speedy-trial procedures, they did not allow a delay in filing formal charges.  The Order dealt with procedures solely as they related to jury trials.  The Judge stated that the administrative orders limit what the courts can do, not the state or the defense.

            In a separate case, in Clay County, Florida Judge Micheal Sharrit sided with prosecutors on similar questions in a case involving a defendant arrested on November 29, 2019 after a traffic crash related to a DUI with bodily injury and driving with a suspended or revoked license.  Prosecutors on June 12, 2020 filed an amendment that upgraded one of the charges to DUI manslaughter  after the death of the victim in the accident.  Attorneys for the defendant argued that the charge could not be amended because the move came after the expiration of the 175-day speedy trial period.  The attorneys argued that but for the outbreak COVID-19 and the inability to exercise his right to a jury trial due to public health concerns, the Defendant’s case would have been tried and disposed of prior to the victim passing away.

            Judge Sharrit rejected the Defense attorney’s arguments stating that the language contained in the administrative orders did not indicate that only certain aspects of “the Rule” should be suspended or that “the Rule” should remain in effect for any particular consideration.  As a matter of law and procedure, the Speedy Trial Rule is generally suspended.

            Both cases are still pending before the First District Court of Appeal.  The Administrative Rule remains in effect still as of today’s date.  Consequently, in the current state of Pandemic and under the current Supreme Court Administrative Rule regarding criminal trials, what is considered a Speedy Trial is questionable.  Contact your local Jacksonville criminal attorney to advocate your case.

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