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What about my Speedy Trial Rights?

Posted by Kathryn Batey | Nov 10, 2023 | 0 Comments

Criminal court in any state can often be an involved and lengthy process - which gets more involved and lengthier the more complex and more serious the charges. Particularly if you or a loved one is held in a detention center or on a form of pre-trial release, the time period between charges and the resolution of your case can feel onerous. While often times there are strategic reasons to not resolving a case as fast as possible, ensuring that both your constitutional and statutory speedy trial rights are protected is an important function of your defense attorney! 


Great news - everyone charged with a crime in Maryland is entitled to a "speedy" trial under both the United States Constitution, the Maryland Declaration of Rights, and Maryland Rule 4-271 and Criminal Procedure 6-103(a). Under the Maryland Rules, everyone charged with a case in the Circuit Court of any county is entitled to a trial within 180 days (6 months) of their case getting filed in the Circuit Court. 


In most areas of law, there is almost always a catch. Here, a judge can find "good cause" to postpone your case beyond the 180 days. State v. Hicks, 285 Md. 310 (1979) This can happen if the prosecution is requesting to continue your case beyond the 180 day time mark and can demonstrate to the judge that their reasons are valid, or if the court scheduling means that a courthouse cannot handle your case that day. Additionally, you and your attorney may decide to "Waive" the right to to a speedy trial under these rules because you all need more time to prepare, locate witnesses, or numerous other strategic reasons specific to your case. 


Yes! If your case is set out past 180 days, you still have a Constitutional Right to a Speedy Trial that never goes away and cannot be waived. The government, whether it is the prosecution or the court, cannot indefinitely delay your trial. If you and your attorney believe your constitutional speedy trial rights have been violated, you can move to dismiss your case. A Court will use the United States Supreme Court case Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 92 S.Ct. 2182 (1972) to look at four factors to decide if your rights have been violated and your case requires dismissal. A court will look at: (1) Length of the Delay (2) Reasons for the Delay (3) Whether you've consistently asserted your speedy trial rights and (4) whether or not the delay has caused problems for you and your case (aka prejudiced you). Every case is different, and every courthouse and judicial officer is different - it will be important to review with an attorney whether you have an argument that your speedy trial rights have been violated in a case. 

When looking at the four factors, its important to know what Maryland Courts have previously decided. 


            There is no brightline rule of exactly how long the delay has to be to constitute "too long." In the past, courts have found that a delay of fourteen months is too long, and that a delay of 1 year and 14 days is too long. Courts have also found that 6 months isn't long enough of a delay to be considered a violation of someone's rights. The analysis often depends on the type of case, the complexity of the charges, the number of potential witnesses, and the history of the case so far. 


           Next, the Judge will look at why the case has been delayed. It is not a violation of your rights if the reasons that the case has been delayed are because of you or your attorney or defense witnesses. However, if the delay is because of the prosecution, the court will look at whether its something purposeful the state is doing, or if it is just the circumstances of the case (an out of town witness for example). Additionally, if the reason for the delay is court congestion or understaffing in the court house, the Judge will consider it to still be the fault of the "state." If the judge finds that the state is delaying the case purposefully, then there is a much higher likelihood that the judge will find your speedy trial rights have been violated than if the delay is just due to circumstance. 


         It must be clear, at every stage, that you are demanding to have your day in court in a timely fashion. You and your attorney should make it clear at each proceeding that you object to postponements and maintain your right to a speedy trial. 


       Finally, a court will look at whether the delay in your trial date has caused "prejudice" to you and your case. A court can examine missing witnesses, the fading memory of witnesses, your anxiety and concern, and potentially your pre-trial detention or restrictions all in determining whether or not the delay has caused prejudice to you. 

Every case is unique, particularly when it comes to evaluating whether your speedy trial rights have been violated. If you or a loved one believe this could be the case for you, it is important to consult with a qualified criminal defense attorney who can assess the individual factors of your case. Contact Us Today for your free 30 minute consultation! 

About the Author

Kathryn Batey

Kathryn Batey, the owner and firm practioner, has spent the entirety of her legal career defending clients against the justice system.  Kathryn graduated from American University's Washington College of law in 2012 and went to work immediately for the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, where...


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