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What Is My Constitutional Right To A Speedy Trial?

Posted in Criminal Defense on October 29, 2020

You have probably heard that a person charged with a crime has the right to a speedy trial. This is true. Under the Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution, criminal defendants have the right to a speedy trial, though the Constitution does not precisely define what a speedy trial means.

Federal Speedy Trial Act

The federal Speedy Trial Act and various state laws provide guidance on when a person’s right to a speedy trial may have been violated. In some states, the prosecution has a limited number of days to bring a defendant for trial after they have been indicted for a crime. However, prosecutors can often get around state requirements if they can show that there was reasonable cause for the delay or if the defendant agrees to waive their right to a speedy trial.

In California, the time period for holding a speedy trial for those indicted on misdemeanors is 30 to 45 days. For felonies in California, the time limit is usually 60 days.

Violations of a right to a speedy trial could result in a conviction and sentence being wiped out or the charges against a defendant being dismissed if a case has not yet reached trial.

What is a Serna motion?

A “Serna motion” is a motion to dismiss misdemeanor or felony charges in California because the defendant was denied their constitutional right to a speedy trial. Serna motions are commonly referred to as “speedy trial motions,” and are filed by criminal defense attorneys during the pretrial process in a California criminal law case. A successful Serna motion will result and criminal charges against the defendant being dismissed.

When deciding whether or not to grant a Serna motion in a federal criminal case, a judge will need to balance the following four factors:

  • The length of the delay in the process
  • The reason for the delay in the process
  • The assertion by the defendant of their right to a speedy trial
  • Prejudice the defendant has suffered due to the delay (prejudice will be presumed if a delay is uncommonly long)

However, when a Serna motion is brought under the California Constitution, a state judge will only consider the following two factors:

  • Actual prejudice the defendant has sustained due to the delay
  • The prosecutor’s justification for the delay

Work with an attorney for a Serna motion

Any person charged with a crime in California should work with an attorney for help with their case. Those charged with a crime need to understand that the resources available to prosecutors far outweigh the resources available to most individuals charged with a crime. However, a skilled California criminal defense lawyer will have the resources and legal expertise necessary to formulate a solid defense on your behalf. This includes understanding whether or not your right to a speedy trial has been violated by the federal or state courts. If your right to a speedy trial has been violated, your criminal defense lawyer will understand how to file a Serna motion in an effort to get the charges against you dismissed. Just because you think your right to a speedy trial has been violated does not mean that that is how the prosecutors or a judge will see it. However, having a skilled Riverside criminal defense lawyer by your side will significantly increase your chance of success in getting your charges dismissed.