Right to a Speedy Trial in a California Criminal Case
This issue comes up all the time. I’ve been doing criminal defense now for twenty-five years and a lot of times, for various reasons, I will be arguing that the judge or the prosecutor, or both, are violating my client’s speedy trial right. And it doesn’t just have to do with a trial. It could also have to do with the preliminary hearing.
Defendants who have been charged a criminal offense in Los Angeles have a right to a speedy trial that is guaranteed by both the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution and the California Constitution.
Serna v. Superior Court
If a defendant’s right to a speedy trial has been violated due to an extensive delay, they can file a motion to dismiss due to a lack of a speedy prosecution. Such a motion is commonly known as Serna motions after the 1985 California Supreme Court decision in Serna v. Superior Court.
The Court ruled that an unjustified delay can be a violation of a defendant’s Constitutional speedy trial rights and can provide grounds for dismissal. In other words, you get arraigned. You’re entitled to have a preliminary hearing within a certain amount of time on a felony case in Los Angeles.
Then, for whatever reason, sometimes the prosecutors are trying to delay that. Maybe they don’t have all the evidence. Maybe the prosecutor that is prosecuting the case is in trial or at another preliminary hearing, so they’re trying to continue the case. The defendant for example, who is in custody, is saying no I don’t want to continue the case. I want my preliminary hearing now.
Violation of Your Right To a Speedy Trial in Los Angeles
So, you start to get into this speedy trial right issue and the judge has to make decisions, obviously, based on the law as to whether or not your speedy trial right has been violated and therefore, the case must be dismissed.
The prosecutors can file a 1050 Motion which is basically a motion that says that they have good cause to continue your case. The judge will have to rule on whether not they actually do have good cause.
For example, just because a prosecutor might not be available, the judge could say, well there’s a thousand prosecutors in LA county. Get another one. And depending on how complicated the case is, how much discovery there is, that may or may not be a solution to the problem.
First, the judge has to decide whether they are going to continue a case if a defendant is asserting their speedy trial right. Then the next question becomes, for how long? Are you going to continue it for a day or two? Are you going to continue it for a week, a month?
So, that really starts to become an issue. You can also get a speed trial right with a defense flair. I’ve seen public defenders, for example, who aren’t prepared on a case — haven’t reviewed all of the discovery — and maybe it’s not their fault.
Maybe it’s just because there’s so much information, there’s not way for them to digest it all, so they want more time and their client doesn’t want them to have more time. Their client wants to have their speedy trial.
Now the judge has to make a decision whether they’re going to continue the case to give the defense lawyer more time over their client objecting, saying I want my trial now. I want my preliminary hearing now. I’m not waving time.
I’m not agreeing to it and I’ve seen judges ignore the defendant and say no, your lawyer says they want time to prepare, so therefore, I’m going to continue the case. On the end, you’ll force the lawyer and then someone will claim that the lawyer wasn’t prepared and, therefore, it’s ineffective assistance to counsel.
Right to a Speedy Trial under the California State Constitution
You just can’t win sometimes with these speedy trial motions. Then of course, this whole speedy trial concept in Los Angeles also applies to trials. Sometimes someone will have their trial. It will be ten of ten, meaning that’s the last day to do the trial.
The defense will come in ready to go and the prosecutor will, for example, give more discovery on the case or ask to continue the case or come up with some new witness and now that puts the defense attorney in a difficult position.
I had a case once in downtown Los Angeles. It was a complicated murder case. Obviously, all of the marbles are on the line and the case had been pending for over two years and we were ready to start the case.
We were ready to go to trial and the day that we’re going to be sent into the trial court, the prosecutors come, not just with a few pages of discovery, they come with an entire box worth of discovery, and my client was mad because she wanted to get her trial started.
There was a co-defendant in the case as well. He wanted to get his trial started. So, I just told the judge, listen, I don’t care what’s in that box. We’re starting the trial and if the prosecutor tries to use anything in that box against my client, I’m going to object to it because it’s been over two years.
There’s no way they couldn’t have gotten this before. So, the judge just sent the case on to the next court. Once we got in that court, the prosecutor dismissed the case and then just refiled the case. Which they can do that one time and I ended up having to review the discovery. The case went to trial and it was actually a hung jury, eleven for not-guilty and one for guilty, and the prosecutors ended up dismissing that case.
I would have of course looked in the box and saw if there was anything to help my client, and obviously had been ready to defend anything that didn’t help my client, but the point illustrates how ridiculous it gets sometimes when these guys are not on the ball and they’re messing around with the discovery and it really does impact somebody’s speedy trial right.
So, you as the defense attorney, and even you as a defendant have to be on top of this stuff — what evidence is available out there to get, let’s get it. Either file a motion for the judge to order the prosecutors to give it order or get It from the police and give it over, subpoena the information yourself.
Do whatever it takes in order to get that information so that you’re prepared and you don’t violate somebody’s speedy trial right.
Contact a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer
So, if you have a speedy trial right issue and these things cab crop up in a lot of different ways, obviously you want to do your research on it. If you’re looking to hire a lawyer, you want to sit down with a lawyer and go over everything so you can really get a feel for what the speedy trial right means in Los Angeles.
You also can discuss what you can do as a defendant or the loved one of a defendant to make sure that you can assert every right possible and get the best outcome in your criminal case in Los Angeles. Contact our law firm for help.