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What is My Right to a Speedy Trial?


What is My Right to a Speedy Trial?

When a person is arrested for and charged with a criminal offense, the prosecutor cannot delay the case indefinitely. To be sure, the person who is facing charges has a right to a speedy trial under the U.S. Constitution, and someone who is facing federal criminal charges also has certain rights under the federal Speedy Trial Act. When you are working with an experienced Dallas federal criminal defense lawyer on your case, your lawyer can ensure that your rights are not violated and that your case is heard in a timely manner. In the meantime, our firm wants to ensure that you have some of the key facts about speedy trial rights in Texas.

Constitutional Right to a Speedy Trial

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees a right to a speedy trial. The language of the amendment specifically states:

“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 wherein 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 defense.”

As you can see, the Sixth Amendment does not specify the amount of time that constitutes a “speedy trial,” which typically means that delays cannot be unreasonable. The Sixth Amendment applies to federal and state criminal prosecutions alike.

Speedy Trial Act for Federal Criminal Prosecutions

For federal criminal prosecutions, the Speedy Trial Act applies and does specify particular time restraints for a criminal trial:

  • Indictment within 30 days from the date of arrest or service of summons;

  • Trial must commence within 70 days from the date the indictment was filed, or the date the defendant appears before the court (whichever comes later); and

  • Trial cannot begin less than 30 days from the defendant’s first court appearance, ensuring a reasonable amount of time to prepare a defense.

Pandemic-Related Delays in Trial Timetables

Many criminal prosecutions were delayed in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although most court backlogs have since been cleared and criminal trials have proceeded according to schedule, it is important to understand speedy trial rights in relation to pandemic-related delays since courts could close again in the future due to COVID-19 or the presence of another virus.

Generally speaking, the specific timing requirements under the Speedy Trial Act require a federal court to abide by those timing requirements. However, as we noted above, the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of a speedy trial does not outline a particular timetable. Instead, in most circumstances, allegations of a Sixth Amendment violation would require a court to weigh the length of the trial delay against the reason or reasons for the delay, including public health concerns related to COVID-19. Even with a pandemic, criminal trials cannot be delayed indefinitely, but public health issues causing a delay could allow for a legitimate delay of some length without violating the Sixth Amendment.

Contact a Dallas Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

If you have questions or concerns about your right to a speedy trial, our Dallas federal criminal defense attorneys can assist you. Contact the Law Office of Patrick J. McLain, PLLC today for more information.