Knowing the tools you have available to you is important, but those tools are useless if you don’t know how to use them. The State of Florida is one of the few states that actually provides criminal defendants a statutory speedy trial; a formidable tool in the right hands. Just ask those jailed in Rikers anywhere between 16 and 18 months awaiting their day in court for a simple misdemeanor. In New York the phrase “speedy trial” is nothing but an empty promise. In Florida, however, it has some teeth…and luckily, those teeth can leave a nice mark if they’re in the mouth of a diligent defense attorney.
Florida mandates those accused of misdemeanors to be brought to trial within ninety (90) days and for those accused of felonies, one hundred seventy five (175) days. While one day in a Florida jail is long enough for anyone locked-up away from their families, their friends, their job, and their life, the Florida speedy trial serves as a reminder to prosecutors that they cannot just sit back and do nothing while someone’s freedom hangs in the balance.
Provided you have not waived your right to a speedy trial by requesting a defense continuance, or rendering yourself unavailable for trial, your speedy trial rights will stay intact. And if you did happen to waive speedies, even then, all is not lost. In addition to your natural speedy trial clock, which begins the moment you are arrested, you can make a demand to have a speedy trial anytime after arrest; provided you are ready for trial.
A demand for speedy trial is different from your natural speedy trial clock in that a demand for speedy trial does not begin the moment you are arrested. Rather, a demand for speedy trial is triggered the moment your defense attorney files it. Once filed, the demand tells the court and the prosecutors “I’m ready for trial, and I’m not waiting any longer to get my justice.” At that point, you must be brought to trial within fifty (50) days of filing the demand.
In all instances, whether your case is on natural speedies or on demand, the only way one’s speedy trial right is waived is if the defendant is deemed to have been “unavailable for trial,” which is where in lies the confusion. Applying Florida’s speedy trial rule properly typically turns on the understanding of the terms “delay”, “unavailability”, and “failure to attend.” Too often to count, judges and attorneys alike believe that if a criminal defendant somehow delays the case that defendant’s speedy trial right has been waived… NOT TRUE. The following facts demonstrate as much:
On January 28, 2015, at approximately 2:30 p.m., a young man was arrested for a misdemeanor. Since that January day, he had been continuously available for trial, and on the morning of April 22, 2015, when the court began calling cases on its trial docket at approximately 9:30 a.m the young man was not present. The docket consisted of a combination of about 84 trial and report cases, and that is only including public defender cases.
The young man’s case was on the early part of the docket, and when his case was called, he was not in the courtroom. As a result, his attorney asked the court if it could pass the case further down the docket. The court, however, did not do so. Instead, the court issued a bench warrant for his arrest. Not long after defense counsel asked for the young man’s case to be passed and the bench warrant had been issued, the young man arrived.
He arrived at approximately 10 a.m., and his presence was announced on the record at approximately 10:24 a.m. The bench warrant was set aside, and at the time his presence was announced for the court record, the court’s calendar still had not ended. In actuality, the court’s calendar was so long that morning, the young man’s presence was announced just as the trial calendar was ending, and the report calendar was beginning. Notably, the court’s report calendar continued for approximately two and a half more hours, which made the earliest a jury panel could have been brought down for trial approximately 1 p.m, over two hours later.
Nevertheless, over defense objection and after defense counsel informed the court that the young man was still ready to proceed to trial, the court charged a defense continuance on April 22, 2015, stating that there was a delay attributable to the defense as a result of the young man’s tardiness.
Fast-forward one month, and the next date the young man’s case was before the court for trial was on May 20, 2015. On that date, his case did not go to trial through no fault of his own, and the court charged a court continuance. On June 1, 2015, the young man’s defense counsel filed a notice of expiration (“NOE”) of speedy trial, and at the NOE hearing on June 5, 2015, the court ruled, over defense objection, that the NOE was not well-taken as a result of the continuance previously charged to the defense.
Defense counsel emphasized that 1) the defense continuance was erroneously charged to the young man, 2) that it was over defense objection, and 3) that he was ready for trial and did not have any intention of waiving his right to a speedy trial. The court was not moved by defense counsel’s argument, and the young man’s case was not brought to trial within ten days of June 5, 2015 as required by Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure 3.191. By June 22, 2015, a date well after the expiration of the speedy trial recapture period, the young man’s case was still on the trial calendar. Accordingly, the young man’s defense counsel provided the court with one case, Hutchinson v. State, 133 So.3d 152 (Fla. 2d DCA 2014), a well-written motion, and some oral argument. Before the hearing was over and the day was done, the young man’s case was dismissed as a result of the State’s violation of his right to a speedy trial.
In Hutchinson, the court held that the mere fact a defendant arrived late to a proceeding is not evidence tending to show unavailability for purposes of the speedy trial rule, and thus the defendant was not unavailable for trial nor did he waive his speedy trial rights. Hutchinson, 133 So. 3d at 155. Importantly, the court goes on to say that the state must show that the defendant’s tardiness was the functional equivalent of a failure to attend the proceeding, something that the state could not show due to the fact that Hutchinson arrived while the docket calendar was still ongoing. Id. Unlike the pretrial release and bond provisions of rule 3.131 and section 903.26, Florida’s speedy trial rule does not address a failure to appear at a specified time. Instead, for the purposes of the speedy trial rule, whether a defendant is unavailable for trial depends on that defendant’s failure to attend a proceeding.
A criminal case has real consequences on people’s lives, and knowing how to apply Hutchinson on the day that young man’s case was dismissed made a real difference on his life and future. The State was held accountable for not upholding the rights of those whose freedom hangs in the balance, and Florida’s speedy trial rule made that happen. Know when to stand up to judges, and most importantly, know when to use the law that is placed in your hands. It could be the difference between your client going to jail or keeping his freedom.
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