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Court Reviews Right to a Speedy Trial Under Washington and Federal Law

On Behalf of | Jan 15, 2019 | Assault

A person does not lose their liberties simply because he or she is charged with a crime. Rather, under both state and federal law, criminal defendants are afforded with certain rights and protections, including the right to a speedy trial.

The Court of Appeals of Washington recently analyzed what constitutes a violation of the right to a speedy trial, in State v. Holcomb, a case where the defendant’s trial was delayed on several occasions. If you currently facing criminal charges, you should retain an experienced Washington criminal defense attorney to assist you in protecting your rights.

Factual Background

The defendant was charged with first and second-degree assault, both with firearm enhancements, violating a no-contact order, and tampering with a witness. He was subsequently tried and convicted of all charges. He then appealed, alleging in part, that the trial court violated the time for trial rule and his right to a speedy trial. On appeal, the court affirmed.

Delays in the Defendant’s Trial

It is alleged that the defendant’s trial was scheduled to begin on November 30, 2015. The trial was subsequently continued a total of ten times over eleven months. From November 2015 through February 2016, three continuances were granted based on agreements between the parties. On March 10, 2016, the State moved for a continuance due to the prosecutor’s unavailability. On March 22, 2016, the State moved for a continuance to allow time to respond to the defendant’s recently filed motion to suppress. On April 28, 2016, the State made its third motion for a continuance based on the unavailability of witnesses. Then, on June 1, 2, 16, and 21, the State moved for continuances based on the lack of availability of either the prosecutor or witnesses. The defendant did not post bail and remained in custody throughout the delays in his trial.

Time for Trial

Under Washington law, the court has a responsibility to ensure a trial within 60 days of arraignment. Certain periods are excluded from the time for trial, however, including unavoidable circumstances that are beyond the control of the court or the parties in the case, and continuances granted by the court. A court has the discretion to grant a continuance when it’s required by the administration of justice and will not prejudice the defendant. Court congestion, however, is not adequate grounds for a continuance. Here, as the trial court’s continuances were not based solely on court congestion, the court found no violation of the rule regarding time for trial.

Right to a Speedy Trial

The court then analyzed whether the trial court violated the defendant’s constitutional right to a speedy trial. Factors considered in determining whether a violation has occurred include the length of the delay, the reason for the delay, the assertion of right, and the prejudice to the defendant. An eight-month delay is presumptively prejudicial and sufficient to require further analysis. Here, as the delay was eleven months it was sufficient to trigger further review. As the first four months of the delay were in part due to the defendant’s need for additional time to prepare for trial, the court found the length of the delay weighed against a speedy trial violation.  The remainder of the delays were attributed to the State and therefore weighed in favor of a speedy trial delay. Further, the fact that the defendant continuously objected to the delay weighed in his favor as well. The court noted, however, that the defendant failed to show that actual prejudice was caused by the delay. Based on the foregoing, the court found that the defendant’s right to a speedy trial was not violated.

Set up a Conference with an Experienced Washington Criminal Defense Attorney

The law affords criminal defendants certain rights, including the right to a speedy trial. If you are charged with a crime, you should confer with a Washington criminal defense attorney to discuss the facts of your case. The experienced criminal defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Smith and White will aggressively advocate on your behalf to help you seek a successful outcome. Contact our offices at 253-363-8662 or through the online form to set up a conference.