If you’re charged with a misdemeanor or felony crime in Virginia, you’re entitled to a range of constitutional protections, such as the right to remain silent and to an attorney. Another one of the most crucial protections is the right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
At The Wilson Law Firm, our experienced Manassas criminal defense lawyers understand the importance of constitutional protections in criminal cases. We’re committed to protecting your rights and aggressively defending you to achieve the best possible outcome, given your situation.
What is a Speedy Trial, and Why is it Important?
The Sixth Amendment states that an accused has a right to a speedy and public trial. This is more than just a legal formality. It’s a fundamental safeguard against the potential abuses of the legal process and ensures that you’re not left in legal limbo indefinitely while awaiting your day in court. The purpose of this constitutional protection is multifaceted.
Avoiding Lengthy Time in Jail
A timely trial ensures that you don’t spend undue time awaiting trial while your rights, reputation, and freedom hang in the balance.
Incarceration is extremely stressful, especially while waiting for your criminal case to be decided. Circumstances are even more dire if you’re falsely accused of committing a crime. The right to a speedy trial reduces this anxiety.
Efficient trial progress helps your legal team effectively defend against the charges you face. A witness' memories can fade over time. In addition, evidence can be lost or destroyed if too much time passes between your arrest and trial.
When Does the Right to a Speedy Trial Begin in Virginia Criminal Cases?
In general, the clock starts ticking the moment an accused is arrested or formally charged with a crime. This moment is known as the "triggering event". From that point onward, the government must ensure that a trial commences within a reasonable timeframe. The specifics of what constitutes a "reasonable" timeframe vary depending on the circumstances of the case and state or federal law. Generally, the legal system aims to balance the need for efficient justice with the complexity of legal proceedings.
Virginia has a specific statute that addresses what’s considered a speedy trial in felonies and misdemeanor cases on appeal to the circuit court in our commonwealth. Under Virginia Code § 19.2-243, the following rules apply.
If the court finds probable cause that an individual has committed a felony and is in custody until their trial, the trial must be conducted within five months of probable cause being established. If the person isn’t in jail awaiting trial, the trial must be held within nine months of the probable cause hearing.
No Preliminary Hearing
If there was no preliminary hearing, or the accused waived the preliminary hearing, the five or nine-month deadline runs from the date of the indictment or presentation against the accused.
When a case is on appeal for a traffic violation or misdemeanor offense in circuit court, the trial de nova must be conducted within five months of the conviction if the defendant has been incarcerated continuously since their arrest, was released on bail, or on personal recognizance.
Determining if the Right to a Speedy Trial Was Violated
Although circumstances vary by case, the court assesses whether there was a violation of the right to a speedy trial by considering a range of factors.
Length of the Delay
The more time that passes between the triggering event and trial commencement, the greater the chance of a rights violation.
Reasons for the Delay
Delays caused by the prosecution, court, or other circumstances beyond your control are viewed differently than delays you caused.
The court considers whether the delay has caused any prejudice to your defense. For instance, if essential evidence or witnesses are unavailable due to the delay, this might strengthen your claim of a violation.
Assertion of Your Right
You must have insisted on your right to a speedy trial to claim this constitutional protection was violated.
Consequences of Violating the Right to a Speedy Trial in Virginia
If the court determines that your right to a speedy trial was violated, the ramifications can be significant. In many cases, the resolution is the dismissal of the charges against you or the reversal of a conviction. These outcomes underscore the importance of this constitutional protection and the serious implications of failing to uphold it.