If you get into trouble with the law, the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution has your back. One of the protections it offers is the right to a speedy trial. There’s a catch, however. Individual states have the right to decide exactly how fast “speedy” should be. To further complicate the issue, you can waive your right to a speedy trial if you choose.
Interpretation of “Speedy”
Exactly how quickly your case will get to court depends on where you committed the crime and the level of crime with which you’re charged. In Ohio, if you’re charged with a first or second degree misdemeanor, you case must go to trial within 90 days. This is actually longer than the short two months that California law provides if you’re charged with a felony. On average, however, misdemeanors are typically tried within three months. For felonies, the deadline may be as long as six months in some jurisdictions.
When the Right Is Not Waived
If you or your attorney doesn’t take steps to waive your right to a speedy trial, the prosecution must prepare its case against you within this short period of time. If the state fails to do so, the prosecutor must go to trial without all his legal ducks in a row or the court can dismiss the case against you. Occasionally, the state may ask for additional time, but the court should not give it if you haven’t waived your right. If the judge does extend the deadline, you may have grounds for an appeal, and if your appeal is successful, the court should drop the charges against you.
Advantages of Waiving the Right
It might seem like standing on your right to go to trial within a short time and keeping the prosecutor’s feet to the fire is a good idea, but it works both ways. Just as the state has limited time to prepare its case if you don’t waive your right to a speedy trial, so do you and your attorney. It’s actually very common for defendants to waive their Sixth Amendment right to get into court sooner rather than later because this gives them additional time to investigate the prosecution’s case and mount a defense. When a defendant is out on bail anyway, there may be no sense in rushing to trial without adequate preparation.
Recapturing and Tolling
In all likelihood, the statutory period of time by which your case must go to trial won’t proceed without pauses -- and it may even accelerate. If your attorney takes any action at all during this time, such as by filing a motion to suppress evidence or to demand discovery, the calendar pages stop flipping. For example, if he files a motion on the 61st day of a 90-day statute, and if it takes 30 days before the court can schedule and hear the motion, the state won’t lose its case before the motion can be heard on the 91st day. This stalling of the calendar is called “tolling” and the remaining 29 days of the statute won’t begin running until the motion is heard. Some states recognize “recapture” periods, which give the state a little additional time to step up their game after the speedy trial period runs out. For example, if you file notice on the 90th day that you want the charges dismissed in accordance with your constitutional rights, the court can give the prosecutor notice that he then has two weeks to get into court or the state forfeits the right to try you. In Ohio, if you’re not out on bail, every day you spend in jail counts as three against the time limit, so it’s possible that the time frame could speed up as well.
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.