The Speedy Trial Clock — How it Works

Unless you’re defined as an “unlawful enemy combatant” by the U.S. Government and are on permanent incarcerated holiday at Guantanamo Bay, every American is entitled to his or her Sixth Amendment rights when accused of a crime.

Thus is law enforcement’s dilemma — particularly when a suspect is a “flight risk,” meaning they may flee to avoid prosecution — when deciding when to cuff them and, in stuffy intellectual terms, suspend their individual liberties. Hook them too soon, and prosecutors may not have enough time to put the case together before their “speedy trial” clock runs out, but leave them be and the public risks increased victimization if they are, in fact, actually committing crime.

This wasn’t an issue in the case of Samuel Bice, the first defendant charged in the Bainbridge case of police car vandalism. But Mark Duncan, the island’s deputy police chief, told me Monday he wanted to ensure all investigatory ducks were in a row for future arrests, to ensure said “clocks” wouldn’t run out.

Barbara Dennis, deputy prosecutor who charged Bice with three counts of first-degree malicious mischief, said the trial clock wouldn’t be an issue in the case. And if — or rather when — further arrests occur, Dennis said even if prosecutors don’t bring charges once they’re arrested, they can re-file them later without worrying about the “trial clock.” Only once statute of limitations runs out — three years after the arrest in this case — would it become an issue, she said.

So what are the definitions of these “speedy” sixth amendment issues?

First, the Sixth Amendment, courtesy of Wikipedia:

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 where in 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 defence.

Dennis said that when a defendant is brought into custody by police and held in the jail, prosecutors have 72 hours — excluding holidays — to file charges. If they don’t, the person is released, but again, prosecutors could refile them later (within the statute of limitations).

Prosecutors, after filing charges, have 60 days to go to trial if a defendant is in custody at the jail, Dennis said. They have 90 days if they’ve been charged and are out of state custody. This is regardless of whether it’s a misdemeanor or more serious felony crime.

In major felony cases, I’ve often seen a defendant waive their speedy trial rights, however, because their counsel believes more time to prepare the case for a jury trumps getting them speedily before one.

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